by Robert Seoane

RICKY NELSON – DANNY & THE JUNIORS – THE SILHOUETTES – BOBBY DAY – GEORGE AUDITIONS FOR JOHN – THE QUARRYMEN – BUDDY HOLLY & THE CRICKETS – THE CHORDETTES – THE CHAMPS – THE MONOTONES – THE MOONGLOWS

The best thing about 1958 was that everybody was still alive. Current and future rock legends were enjoying or about to enjoy the most productive years of their lives. Future rock superstars like Prince and Michael Jackson were born in 1958. Despite the fact that rock ‘n’ roll was still barely three years old, 1958 would prove to be the last year without a casualty. In 1958, the sky wasn’t even the limit. New artists were emerging from other mediums and current artists were enjoying the peak of their careers.

Among notable milestones that took place in 1958 was the introduction of the American Express card and Mr. Clean. Also, commercial jet airline service opened between New York and Miami in 1958 and the toy company Wham-O introduced another fad into American culture a year after the Frisbee with the hula hoop. The teenage idol of the day was newcomer Steve McQueen starring in the year’s hokiest horror flick “The Blob”.

“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” –President Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Look, ma! No cavities” –Crest toothpaste ad

 

RICKY NELSON

“I waited, and I’m sure Elvis did too, for each Ricky Nelson record… like we would a Chuck Berry record or a Fats Domino record, to see what was going on. I used to say to some of the guys that Ricky Nelson learned to sing on million selling records.” – Roy Orbison

Eric Hillard “Ricky” Nelson was the youngest son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, a couple with one of the most popular situation comedies on early TV. He was the first rock ‘n’ roll singer to come from television. He was a good looking kid, with a resemblance to Elvis, but the biggest distinction between them was that Ricky Nelson, despite his numerous hits, was very wooden in his singing style and stage presence. He rarely smiled, whereas a lot of Elvis’ charm came from his ability to dazzle with his charming smile as he chuckled to himself at times while singing. Ricky Nelson, as handsome as he was, only started to loosen up after his career had hit its peak.

“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” began its radio broadcasts on October 8, 1944 and continued for a decade, overlapping its TV show by two years. The TV show, about the comic trials and tribulations of a good old fashioned American family, ran for fourteen years from 1952 to 1966.

As any typical teenager of the day, the real life Ricky Nelson was enthralled with rock ‘n’ roll, particularly Carl Perkins. Ricky learned clarinet, drums and basic guitar chords as a pre-teen. Having the unique opportunity of appearing on national television every week with his parents and brother gave him an edge when he decided to go to his father Ozzie and tell him he would like to record a song to impress a girl he liked, as if being a TV star wasn’t enough.

Always the entrepreneur, Ozzie Nelson’s gears started turning and realized he had a whole new outlet for a burgeoning young market. Ozzie secured a one-record deal for his son through Verve Records. Verve had been looking for a young, malleable singer they could use to compete for Elvis fans. Soon, Ricky Nelson was in the recording studio recording Fats Domino’s “I’m Walking” and “A Teenager’s Romance”, which was promptly released as his first single in April of 1957. That same month, an Ozzie and Harriet episode ran called “Ricky The Drummer”. During that half hour, Ricky Nelson’s recording career began. He was showcased playing the drums, choosing a particularly snazzy tune that required neat drum rolls, and at the end came out to lip-sync his single “I’m Walking”. Still a skinny, unsure teenager his performance was completely lacking in emotion. But it didn’t matter. Ricky Nelson had grown up with America on TV for five years by then, and hundreds of thousands of young girls his age had grown up with him and many already had a crush on the TV idol.

“I’m Walking” did well in the charts, rising up to Number Four in Billboard’s Pop chart, but having Nelson record that particular song seemed too much like the “Pat Boone Maneuver” of trotting out a white artist to interpret a song that was played and sung much better by the African-American original songwriter, only because America was too racist to accept most black artists. But Nelson proved so popular that nobody cared about his complete lack of ability to let loose, singing with very little range of emotion and displaying only some fundamental, brief dance moves.

It was Ricky Nelson’s second single that started to set him apart. He was still pretty stiff and his voice didn’t have much nuance but he could carry a tune in his own distinctive soft-rockabilly style.

BE BOP BABY – RICKY NELSON

Ricky’s second hit was actually the B-side of the single released after “I’m Walking”. “Be Bop Baby” was preferred by DJs over the country as well as its radio audience over the selected A side,
“Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”, an old standard recorded not too differently and just as uneventful as the original country version written and released by Scott Weisman in 1945.

“Be Bop Baby” was a much more modern, hip song which Ricky sang along playfully to sharp guitar strums that made the song naturally danceable. It reached Number Three on the Billboard pop chart towards the end of 1957.

“A be bop baby still in her teens, just as sweet as she can be, A be bop baby in her old blue jeans, is the be bop baby for me, a be bop baby for me…” Be Bop Baby – Ricky Nelson

Ricky Nelson’s career was looking as bright as it could be when Hollywood came knocking and offered him a co-starring role with John Wayne and Dean Martin in “Rio Bravo” in 1957. He was showcased singing and playing guitar in the movie with Martin, then took the lead on a second song, this time accompanied on harmonica by legendary character cowboy actor Walter Brennan.

Ricky’s movie career seemed to have a lot of promise, but he only appeared in just a few more films after that, including “The Wackiest Ship In The Army” (1960), this time accompanied on piano by Academy award winning actor Jack Lemmon.

POOR LITTLE FOOL – RICKY NELSON

Eighteen year old Sharon Sheeley wrote “Poor Little Fool” about herself right after she broke up with Don Everly of The Everly Brothers when she was fifteen. She presented it to Ricky Nelson, claiming the song had been written for Elvis by her godfather. Nelson recorded it and it went to Number One on the Billboard chart for two weeks during the summer of 1958. She was the youngest woman to have written a Number One hit at the time, a distinction that in 2014, during the time of this writing, now belongs to Lorde who made her debut when she was sixteen. Sharon Sheeley was with Eddie Cochran in the taxi that took his life when it blew a tire and slammed into a post. Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis but survived. She lived 62 years until 2002, when she suffered a brain hemorrhage.

“She’d play around and teased me with her carefree devil eyes, she’d hold me close and kiss me but her heart was full of lies, Poor little fool, oh yeah, I was a fool, uh huh” – Poor Little Fool – Ricky Nelson

“Poor Little Fool” was already a hit for Ricky Nelson when he released his second album. He didn’t want to release the song as a single because he didn’t want to hurt the sales of his album. It was released as a single anyway and Nelson declared his disapproval by not allowing a photograph of him on the single’s sleeve, a right he had contractually with his record company, Imperial. Despite that, it still went to Number One.

Ozzie Nelson knew he had a goldmine in his hands and would showcase his son Ricky at the end of every few episodes. Being a control freak, Ozzie forbade his son from appearing on any other national television show as a performer, so he never played on “American Bandstand” or “The Ed Sullivan Show” although he had desperately wanted to. He finally did appear on Ed Sullivan in 1967. The Ozzie and Harriet show had gone off the air in 1966 after a fourteen year run, so he no longer had to honor his father’s demands, although rock music tastes had matured and developed away from his rockabilly style by then.

Ricky Nelson would have to thank his father, despite his controlling ways, for launching a very successful recording career. Between 1957 and 1962 he had recorded 30 songs that had entered the Top 40, more than any other artist except Elvis.

LONESOME TOWN – RICKY NELSON

Nelson’s next single was “Lonesome Town”, a song that sounded so much like an Elvis song a la “Love Me Tender”, that there was no doubt that Heartbreak Hotel was probably located somewhere in Lonesome Town.

“Goin’ down to lonesome town where the broken hearts stay, goin’ down to lonesome town to cry my troubles away. In the town of broken dreams, the streets are filled with regret, maybe down in lonesome town I can learn to forget.” Lonesome Town – Ricky Nelson

Throughout the rest of 1958 and 1959, Ricky Nelson charted regularly, with five songs that would reach the Top Ten out of the seven that had charted during the next eighteen months. As the new decade dawned however, Nelson dipped in popularity. In 1960, none of the six songs released made it to the Top Ten. It looked like Ricky Nelson’s career was taking a downward spiral.

TRAVELIN’ MAN/HELLO MARY LOU –RICK NELSON

Nelson changed his professional name from Ricky to Rick when he turned twenty-one. “Travelin’ Man” was Rick’s first single of 1961 after a string of songs that didn’t get close to the Top Ten, except for “Young Emotions”, climbing up to Number 12 at the beginning of the new decade. The rest of his output lingered in the 20s, 30s 50s and 70s in the Top 100 Pop chart.

“Travelin’ Man” changed that, hitting Number One and followed on the charts by its B-Side “Hello, Mary Lou”, reaching up to Number Nine. Rick Nelson had come back. About a guy who literally had a girlfriend in every port, “Travelin Man” has an easy air about it, like of Rick Nelson’s songs. He always seemed almost too relaxed when he sang and as a result, made us feel comfortable in his soft rockabilly style, certainly a precursor to the soft rock movement that predominated the early 1970s.

“Hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart, sweet Mary Lou I’m so in love with you. I knew Mary Lou, we’d never part, so hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart…” Hello Mary Lou – Rick Nelson

“Hello Mary Lou” had a quicker tempo but was still rockabilly at its best, rivaling the heroes and peers he admired and mirroring Carl Perkins and Elvis. Nelson’s songs came distilled with his easy-going style.

After that solid hit, Rick Nelson began to slide again. He didn’t have a Top Ten song until the following year, 1962 with “Young World”.

He managed two more Top Ten songs that same year, none that have stood the test of time. Rick inevitably slipped into the same label with the rest of the great artists and groups of the Fifties. Once The Beatles landed in 1964, they changed music forever. Instantly, almost everything before them was labeled “nostalgia”.

Rick Nelson was not a quitter however. Despite being barely noticed by the young pop audience market of the Sixties , he released two to three albums each and every single year of that tumultuous decade. Sales however, were not good. Besides his recording career, he was wise enough to continue pursuing his acting career and spent the 1970s and 1980s appearing as a guest star on TV shows of the day such as “McCloud”, “Love Boat” and “The Streets Of San Francisco”, as well as several TV movies.

Perseverance paid off however and in 1972, he released his last Top Ten Hit.

GARDEN PARTY – RICK NELSON

Rick Nelson wrote a song about his experience at a nostalgia rock ‘n’ roll festival he played one night in Madison Square Garden. Apparently, it didn’t go very well.

“If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck, but if memories were I sang, I’d rather drive a truck, but it’s right now, I learned my lesson well, you see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself” Garden Party – Rick Nelson

It seems that Nelson was booed off the stage on October 15, 1971 at Madison Square Garden when he came on wearing contemporary wardrobe (bell bottoms and a purple velvet shirt) and long hair down to his shoulders, not looking at like the young TV idol, Ricky. After starting out with “Hello Mary Lou”, he sang Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me”. His third song was The Rolling Stones’ “Country Honk”, a slow country and western version of “Honky Tonk Woman” off the “Let It Bleed” album. That’s when he started to get boos and promptly, Nelson decided to not finish the song and walked off stage. He watched the rest of the show, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell, from backstage and didn’t appear with everyone else for the finale. The moment had apparently left such an impression on him that he had to write a song about it. It would be the last Top Forty song of his career.

“Played them the old songs, thought that’s why they came. No one heard the music, we didn’t look the same. I said, hello to “Mary Lou”, she belongs to me. When I sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave.” Garden Party – Rick Nelson

There are two references to The Beatles in “Garden Party”, two of them who were attending the show as fans, not performers. Nelson referred to John Lennon as Yoko’s walrus, which was a pretty obvious clue. But a little harder to understand was George Harrison’s mention as ‘Mr. Hughes’. Many thought Nelson was referring to Howard Hughes but he was in fact singing about his next door neighbor and friend Beatle George who attended the concert incognito. “Hughes” was an alias he went by. Harrison had also been working closely with Bob Dylan during that period.

“People came from miles around, everyone was there, Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air, and over in the corner, much to my surprise, Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes wearing his disguise.” Garden Party – Rick Nelson

Rick Nelson stopped recording with his last album release of original recordings “Playing To Win” (1981), after a consistent annual output of product. Overall, he released 36 albums and over ninety singles.

Rick Nelson had his share of troubles during the Seventies and Eighties, including drug use, an extravagant lifestyle that included private Lear jets, an unwanted pregnancy Nelson denied despite DNA evidence proving otherwise, and many infidelities that resulted ultimately in a long, painful divorce.

Rick Nelson toured extensively through the years in order to afford the lifestyle that he and his family had grown accustomed to. He hated flying but he also did not enjoy bus trips from one gig to another, so in 1985 he decided to purchase a 1944 Douglas DC- that once belonged to the DuPont family and subsequently Jerry Lee Lewis. The plane was beset with problems and one wonders why Nelson put up with more than one incident of the plane enduring malfunctions if he was so afraid of flying. One time, he and the crew went so far as to have to push the plane off the runway because an engine had blown.

On December 26, 1985, Nelson, his girlfriend Helen Blair along with his band members, traveled through a short tour of the southeastern United States to perform holiday dates. On New Year’s Eve, 1985, they boarded the Douglas DC- in Guntersville, Alabama in order to fly to Dallas, Texas for a New Year’s Eve extravaganza that Nelson and his band would appear in.

One of the malfunctions besetting Nelson’s plane that day was the heater. It had been acting up earlier and during flight, apparently caught on fire. Panic evidently ensued inside the plane because an unused fire extinguisher was found in the cockpit. The pilots lost control of the aircraft, hit a few trees and crashed outside DeKalb, Texas. Of the seven passengers, bass guitarist Patrick Woodward, drummer Rick Intveld, keyboardist Andy Chapin, guitarist Bobby Neal, road manager Donald Russell, Helen Blair and Rick Nelson died. The pilot and co-pilot, Brad Rank and Ken Ferguson, survived. They managed to wriggle out of the cockpit after the accident. Calling into the plane for survivors, they received no response. Ferguson, when briefed by authorities, told them that co-pilot Rank kept repeating to him “Don’t tell anyone about the heater”.

“One of the times, I refused to turn it (the heater) on. I was getting more nervous. I didn’t think we should be messing with that heater en-route.” -Pilot Ken Ferguson

Autopsies were made on everyone and, although the pilots were found to be drug-free, Nelson’s body had traces of cocaine in his system. As per his death certificate, he died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns. His son Matthew learned about his father’s death on the radio the following day while driving in his car and became hysterical. He and his twin brother Gunnar were set to be on that plane, but Rick had changed his mind about having them with him just days before his departure. His mother Harriet also learned about her son’s death on the news. Father Ozzie was spared the tragic news, having died ten years earlier at age 69.

Rick Nelson was 45 years old at the time of his death.

 

THE DIAMONDS – THE STROLL

A new dance style was sweeping up teenage high school dances around the country since late 1957 called The Stroll. It was very much like a Virginia Reel as Dick Clark once pointed out, where boys and girls line up opposite each other and take turns as a couple dancing down the middle, a couple at a time, to the groove of the music.

Dick Clark suggested to A&R executive Clyde Otis that the dance style be turned into a song. Otis quickly co-wrote the song with Nancy Lee and called it “The Stroll”.

“The Stroll” was given to the Canadian group The Diamonds to record. They were coming off their last big hit, “Little Darlin’” and this was to ensure them another hit single. It ultimately reached to Number Four on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Five on the R&B chart.

 

ONE HIT WONDERS

DANNY & THE JUNIORS – AT THE HOP

Since rock ‘n’ roll was being played throughout the country in 1958 in every high school dance, or “hop” as they used to call them, it was only a matter of time before someone released songs about just that.

The sock hop was ingrained in the youth culture of the Fifties. The term was derived from the requirement of the students to remove their hard heeled black school shoes when dancing at the gym so there wouldn’t be scuff marks. Dance hop records emerged from the sock hop tradition and the first one of its kind was “At The Hop”.

Written by Artie Singer, John Medora and David White, it was recorded and released as a single by a group called Danny & The Juniors. It was originally called “Do The Bop”, but it was Dick Clark of “American Bandstand” to suggest the title of the song be changed to “At The Hop”. After their appearance on “Bandstand”, the record shot up to Number One in the Billboard Pop chart and stayed there for five weeks. The song received a second breath of life in the late Sixties when Sha-Na-Na performed it during the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Four years later, the movie “American Graffiti” would also showcase the song, sung by retro band Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids.

“You can rock it, you can roll it, do the stomp and even stroll it at the hop, when the record starts spinnin’ you calypso and you chicken at the hop, do the dance sensation that is sweepin’ the nation at the hop…” At The Hop – Danny & The Juniors

Dick Clark had interests in the songs he was suggesting and even asked for fees from writers like Artie Singer. Grudgingly, they forked over or else Clark would not allow them on “Bandstand”. This was the very act from which Alan Freed lost everything just two years before. Clark got away with it because the laws had changed somewhat and he apparently managed to find some loopholes. He also was smart enough to sell the song before the 1960 payola hearings. In the end, Dick Clark was given the opportunity to divest himself from investments that may be defined by the law as payola.

 

THE SILHOUETTES – GET A JOB

A perfect example of a “one hit wonder”, The Silhouettes formed in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, originally as The Thunderbirds, and recorded a handful of songs. “Get A Job” was one of them, a song about unemployment and the difficulties of finding work, but in an upbeat swing.

Tenor of the group Richard Lewis wrote the lyrics, and once explained that he had heard the refrain “get a job” from his mother after he came back from serving in the military. The mantra inspired him to write the song with the rest of the members of the group, who are credited for the now stereotypical Fifties rock ‘n’ roll background vocal gibberish “sha na na” and “yip yip yip yip”.

“And when I get the paper, I read it through and through, and my girl never fails to say if there is any work for me, and when I go back to the house I hear the woman’s mouth, preaching and a-crying, tell me that I’m lying ’bout a job that I never could find.” Get A Job – The Silhouettes

Their manager Kae Williams issued “Get A Job” as the B-side to another song they had recorded called “I Am Lonely” on his own Junior Records label, then sold the recordings to Ember Records in late 1957. The single was released and “Get A Job” was preferred as the song to be played by DJs throughout the country. It wound up Number One in both the Billboard Pop and R&B chart. They also appeared on “American Bandstand”. Ultimately, “Get A Job” sold over a million records. After that, the group never managed to place another song on the chart again.

“Get A Job” uses the typical doo wop singing style of the Fifties, coming up with nonsense phrases that mean nothing other than singing along with the melody. In the case of “Get A Job”, the “sha na na” background vocal inspired the name of the retro fifties band “Sha-Na-Na” that performed in Woodstock in 1969 and had a short lived syndicated TV show in the 70s.

 

BOBBY DAY – ROCKIN’ ROBIN

Robert James Byrd, Sr., aka Bobby Day, is a one hit wonder only in the sense that “Rockin’ Robin” was initially the only song he ever charted as Bobby Day. His other songwriting efforts, “Over and Over” and “Little Bitty Pretty One” were made famous by other artists. “Rockin’ Robin” ironically enough, wasn’t written by Day but by Leon Rene under the pseudonym Jimmie Thomas. Day had released the song through Rene’s Class record label. It spent one week at the top of the Billboard Pop chart in 1958.

Michael Jackson seemed to have been a Bobby Day fan because besides The Jackson Five’s recording “”Little Bitty Pretty One” in 1972, Michael also recorded “Rockin’ Robin” that same year and released it as a solo single. Whereas Bobby Day’s version sounds like a fun rock ‘n’ roll dance number for kids of ages, Jackson’s version tends to sound more childlike because of Michael’s voice and the fact that he was 14 years old when he recorded it.

“Over and Over” was the B-side of “Rockin’ Robin”. This Day-penned song went up to Number 41 on the Billboard Pop chart, but when it was re-recorded with a much harder edge by The Dave Clark Five seven years later, it managed to be the group’s only Number One hit in the USA.


Bobby Day released “Little Bitty Pretty One” as a single in 1957 under the name of his group “The Satellites” but it went nowhere. Thurston Harris’ version of “Little Bitty Pretty One” was released at around the same time Day released “Rockin’ Robin” and went to Number Six of the Billboard Pop Chart. It was also re-recorded in 1962 by Clyde McPhatter. Other artists such as Frankie Lymon and Huey Lewis & The News played the song in their performances.





Bobby Day’s recorded releases date up to 1963. His lack of continued success caused him to move to Australia, but soon came back to the United States and settled in Florida. He made a live on-stage comeback in the UK in 1989 but died of cancer the following year at age 62.

 

GEORGE PLAYS FOR JOHN

On February 6, 1958, Paul McCartney urged his friend George Harrison to meet John Lennon because Paul felt that George would make a suitable addition to their band The Quarrymen.

Paul had met George on the bus on their way to school every day at the Liverpool Institute. Despite being almost a year younger than Paul, 14 year old George was already a good guitarist and the two became fast friends as they spent time playing guitar together.

The Quarrymen had the ambitious idea of including a third good guitarist into the band, particularly because John was leaning more towards rock ‘n’ roll music and away from skiffle. This left Quarryman banjo player Eric Griffiths with no instrument to play so he left the group. That’s when Paul suggested George. The audition took place the evening of February 6th on top of a double decker bus. At Paul’s urging, George pulled out his guitar and played a note-perfect rendition of Bill Justis’ “Raunchy” for John. John was impressed and realized George had to be in, particularly because he knew more chords than John did, as John was still honing his own guitar chops. The fact that George’s mother encouraged the boys to rehearse at their home and offered them shots of whisky helped sweeten the deal. The only problem that concerned John is that George was so damn young. He looked even younger than Paul who already “looked like 10” because of his baby face. George hadn’t even sprouted a whisker to shave off yet. But he was in anyway. They’d just have to find a way around it. Rumor has it that it did take George about a month of hounding them to be included in the band before John finally relented.

THE QUARRYMEN RECORD

At this point, The Quarrymen consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John “Duff” Lowe on piano and Colin Hanton on drums. By the summer, the group was committed to record themselves. On a hot Sunday afternoon, July 14, 1958, the boys pooled their money together, they needed one or two pounds, got on a local bus with their instruments, except for the piano that was waiting for them at the studio, and entered Percy Phillips Recording Studio in Liverpool.

The Quarrymen recorded two songs that day. The record itself is the earliest recording ever made of The Beatles sans Ringo, who wouldn’t join the group for another four years.

John sang the lead on the first song, Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day”.

The second song, “In Spite Of The Danger” was more intriguing. It was an original composition written by Paul with George. Although in later years, Paul insisted that he wrote most of the song, he did admit that it was George playing lead guitar. It was the only time Paul and George ever collaborated together on any Beatles song. John also sings vocal in this song along with George and Paul. Even at such an early stage in their careers, the song has interesting melodic changes that make it quite a decent song. Both these compositions were recorded in approximately fifteen minutes.

Only one ten inch 78rps vinyl record was pressed of the two sided single as part of the deal for recording it in that studio. As a result, the five band members agreed to each hold it for a week and alternate with one another. John held it the first week, then Paul, then George. Colin then held it for a week and handed it over to Duff, who held it for the next twenty-three years.

The Beatles had apparently forgotten or cared little about that recording, especially since Duff tried to contact them over the years, apparently to inform John that it was his week. Finally, some time in the early 1980s, Paul bought it off Duff Lowe for an undisclosed amount and made fifty copies, sending them to his closest friends as a Christmas offering, George and Ringo included. This single is now considered the rarest record in the world, worth conservatively around three hundred thousand dollars.

 

BUDDY HOLLY & THE CRICKETS – 1958

“If anyone asks you what kind of music you play, tell them ‘pop’. Don’t tell them ‘rock and roll’ or they won’t even let you in the hotel.” Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly’s career in 1958 was flourishing and maturing at a steady rate. He became more aware of the record business and had a desire to experiment with his compositions by adding orchestral arrangements. He admired his fellow artists who were dominating the charts and wanted to work with some of them. The year started well when he played the Ed Sullivan Show for the second time on a Sunday evening on January 26, 1958. He played “Oh, Boy” his current hit and his popularity grew. To The Establishment, Holly was a young white boy singing catchy rockabilly songs and looking extremely non-threatening wearing nerdy, black framed glasses. Inadvertently, Holly made glasses acceptable for rock ‘n’ roll artists and many followed suit, including Roy Orbison, John Lennon, Elton John and Elvis Costello.

“He was the first guy I ever saw with a capo (a device used on the neck of a stringed, typically fretted, instrument to shorten the playable length of the strings). And he made it OK to wear glasses. I WAS Buddy Holly.” – John Lennon

“Stars like Elvis… they were really good looking fellas, and then Buddy came along and he was a fellow with glasses.” –Paul McCartney

MAYBE BABY – THE CRICKETS

Taken from The Crickets’ first album “The Chirping Crickets”, released the previous November on The Brunswick label, “Maybe Baby” reached to Number 17 in the winter of 1958 on the Billboard Pop chart, Number Eight on the R&B chart and Number Four in The UK. It was credited as written by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, his producer and manager.

In direct contrast to the clever lyrics of Lieber & Stoller, Holly, wasn’t too interested in writing clever words. He was into love songs and his lyrics were always simple. Yet it was the beat and the melody that makes the song what it is.

“Well you are the one that, makes me glad, any other one that, makes me sad, when some day, you’ll want me, well, I’ll be there, wait and see ee ee…maybe baby, I’ll have you, maybe baby, you’ll be true, maybe baby, I’ll have you for me…” Maybe Baby – The Crickets

This lyrical style was very much the blueprint for The Beatles’ early songwriting period, backing elementary rhyming words about love over vibrant, energetic and melodic music like “Love Me Do”, “P.S. I Love You”, “Please Please Me”, “Ask Me Why”, “From Me To You” and “Thank You Girl”.

“We did practically everything he put out, i.e. at the Cavern, etc. What he did with three chords made a songwriter out of me.” – John Lennon

I’M GONNA LOVE YOU TOO – BUDDY HOLLY

For some inexplicable reason, this great tune didn’t break into Billboard’s Top 100 Pop Song chart. It was the opening track of his second album, titled “Buddy Holly” and released in February on Coral Records. Holly was the first recording artist to be signed to two different record companies as a solo artist with Coral and as part of The Crickets for Brunswick, so this actually was released before “Maybe Baby”, although it was recorded afterwards.

“You’re gonna say you’ll miss me, you’re gonna say you’ll kiss me, yes, you’re gonna say you’ll love me, cause I’m-a gonna love you too…” I’m Gonna Love You Too – Buddy Holly

Although songwriting credits are attributed to Niki Sullivan and Joe Mauldin of The Crickets as well as their record producer and manager Norman Petty for “IGLYT”, drummer Jerry Allison, who was also there at the recording, attributes the song’s authorship squarely on Holly. Somehow, Holly managed to lose his songwriting credits for the song.

Producer/Manager Norman Petty often placed his name on the records he produced to share co-writing credits on Buddy Holly and Crickets songs, a practice that was relatively common back in those days.

Petty’s Clovis, New Mexico recording studio is legendary in rock ‘n’ roll history as the studio that recorded many great hits, not just by Holly and his Crickets but also by Roy Orbison, Buddy Knox, Waylon Jennings and many other young rockabilly and country artists. Petty could spot talent. Buddy Holly was undoubtedly his prize catch. He allowed Buddy and the group to take over the recording studio during off hours, working in the middle of the night until early morning to work out songs and melodies. Petty himself contributed musical instrumentation and was completely immersed in engineering and mixing of Holly’s output. As manager, he also managed the money Holly and the group were making with their records, something that Holly did not feel comfortable about.

As is true of so many Buddy Holly songs, generations of recording artists have recorded his music. “IGLYT” was remade in 1979 by Blondie and their version appeared on their debut album “Parallel Lines”.

BUDDY HOLLY – ALBUM

“The number of great recordings he made in his very short life places him at or beyond the level of any musical artist in almost any category.” –Don McLean

Although this was Holly’s second album, released in February of 1958, it was his first under his own name and not the Crickets since this one was released by Coral Records. Aside from the opening track, it included hits that had been released the year before. “Peggy Sue” “Everyday” and “Words Of Love” were included along with lesser known tunes. Some of the other songs were also Buddy Holly tunes but either were eerily reminiscent of an earlier Holly tune or was not up to par to his singles output. It was clear that, although he managed to write some classic, beautiful standards, he was still growing as a songwriter. The other songs in the album included tunes penned by Fats Domino (the so-so song “Valley Of Tears”), Lieber & Stoller and a growling rendition of Robert Blackwell’s “Ready Teddy” that showcases an uncommon vocal style from his usual hiccup middle tenor.

It’s interesting to note that Norman Petty shares co-writing credit on practically the songs Holly sang. The truth is that Norman Petty’s contributions to Holly’s and the Crickets’ recordings were considerable. He would arrange the background vocals for the songs and hired the singers because The Crickets didn’t sing background. Petty would also contribute his piano playing on several recordings. He pioneered the use of an echo chamber in the recording studio to give the vocals a little reverb, but not too much echo to drown out the melody. What was always in question however, was how much songwriting credit he deserved on Holly’s songs. Many agree that his songwriting contributions were minimal and in some songs, virtually non-existent.

“’That’ll Be The Day’ was a very exciting record. You didn’t know if they were white, black. It didn’t really matter.” – Paul McCartney

RAVE ON – BUDDY HOLLY

Holly’s next single was released in April 1958 from the Buddy Holly album. Songwriting credits for this song are Sonny West, Bill Tilgman …and Norman Petty. Sonny West gave his own composition a try, releasing it just a couple of months before, but it went nowhere. Holly’s version cracked the Top 40 in the US at Number 37 and hit Number Five in the UK. Holly’s songs were making a bigger impact overall in the United Kingdom than in the USA as evidenced by three typical British teenagers named John, Paul and George who were profoundly influenced by Holly songs.

Regardless of who wrote it, Holly makes it his own immediately, opening the song with his signature hiccup style.

“A weh-uh-eh-uh-ell, the little things you say and do, make me want to-oo be with you-a-hoo, Rave on, it’s a crazy feelin’ and I know it’s got me reelin’ when you say, I love you, rave on…” Rave On – Buddy Holly

“Rave On” wasn’t produced in Petty’s Clovis studio but in New York’s Bell Recording Studios by bandleader/producer Milton DeLugg in January of 1958. Petty played piano in the recording.

“I was influenced by the simplicity and unbelievably clear structure of Buddy’s songs. (They) communicated strongly and found their way deep inside, and can never be dislodged.” – Graham Nash of The Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash

THINK IT OVER/FOOL’S PARADISE – THE CRICKETS

Not to be outdone by their lead singer as a solo artist, it was time for The Crickets to come up with a song after the success of Holly’s “Rave On”. Credited as being written by Holly, Allison and Norman Petty, Petty contributed organ playing to this song. It cracked the Billboard Top 30 Pop chart and made it onto Billboard’s R&B Top Ten at Number Nine. It hovered just under the Top Ten at Number 11 in the UK.

“Think it over what you just said, think it over in your pretty little head. Are you sure that I’m not the one? Is your love real or only fun? You think it over, yes, think it over. A lonely heart grows cold and old…” Think It Over – The Crickets

“Think It Over” is a great rock song, not just a rock ‘n’ roll song. Devoid of any sweet instrumentation and ‘moon-june” rhyming and cooing, this song was more like a warning: ‘Make sure you know I’m not the one because you just might lose me’. This song must’ve been noticed particularly by John Lennon who was still developing his musicianship in 1958. John would, within six years, be writing Beatles love songs filled with veiled threats and outright jealousies to the women he wanted, very reminiscent of “Think It Over”. “This Boy”, “I’ll Be Back”, “You Can’t Do That” were Lennon songs filled with lyrics warning the girl of the dangers of playing with his heart.

The B-side, “Fool’s Paradise” had a lilting rhythm that was basically a blueprint on how to write a catchy pop song.

“You took me up to heaven when you took me in your arms, I was dazzled by your kisses, blinded by your charms. I was lost, in a Fool’s Paradise… good and lost, in a Fool’s Paradise.” Fool’s Paradise – Buddy Holly

Holly’s output of genuinely one rock ‘n’ roll gem after another was truly astounding. So much so that practically every rock artist, whether it be a group or a solo artist, began their career playing and/or recording Holly tunes. The best thing about these wonderful songs is that they are so good structurally and melodically, and there was more to come.

Buddy Holly’s interest in the music business was rapidly expanding. He wanted to know every facet of the process and, essentially, where his money was going. It seemed that, despite hit after hit, Holly didn’t feel he was receiving what was justifiably his and was struggling to make ends meet. One June day in 1958, Holly travelled to New York City to meet with Murray Deutsch, an executive for Holly’s publishing company Peer-Southern Music. When he walked through the door, he met Deutch’s receptionist, a pretty 27 year old Puerto Rican girl named Maria Elena Santiago who was temping there for her Aunt Provi. Despite the fact that she was four years older than Holly, he seemed to have become smitten quickly. So insistent was he in wanting to see her again that he spoke to Deutch’s secretary Jo Harper, and asked her to get Maria Elena invited to a luncheon at a function in a Howard Johnsons that he would be attending.

Holly seemed to be in a hurry to live his life to the fullest as quickly as possible, as if he knew it would end one day soon. That day at the luncheon, Buddy Holly asked Maria Elena out for dinner at the renowned and still operating New York restaurant, P.J.Clarke’s. She accepted and that very same evening, Holly handed her a rose with an engagement ring attached to it, asking her if she would marry him. Less than two months after their first date, on August 15, 1958, Buddy Holly and Maria Elena Santiago tied the knot back in Holly’s hometown of Lubbock.

“I’d never had a boyfriend in my life. I’d never been on a date before. But when I saw Buddy, it was like magic. We had something special: love at first sight. It was like we were made for each other. He came into my life when I needed him, and I came into his.” – Maria Elena Holly; Aug. 15 2008

After their honeymoon in Acapulco, Maria Elena assimilated quickly into Buddy’s life, going with him on tours and, since she was experienced in music publishing, even helped in the handling of the finances of the tour. It was during this time that Holly became even more aware of the ins and outs of the recording business and beginning to suspect that he was being robbed of his royalties. He decided to move to New York with Maria Elena to be closer to the center of the business of recording in order to keep a vigilant eye. The Crickets however, were persuaded by Norman Petty to stay put in Lubbock and so they decided to stay. Holly quickly severed ties with The Crickets as a result and soon would also fire Norman Petty as his manager. Buddy and Maria Elena suspected that Petty was funneling the royalties due to Buddy back into Petty’s own account. As for The Crickets, Holly would hire musicians for each gig and called them Crickets, figuring that at some point he would reunite with the original members of his group once this messy financial business was resolved. In the meantime, besides the occasional tour to drum up some money, Holly would enter the recording studio in May, June and September to record some more gems.

EARLY IN THE MORNING – BUDDY HOLLY

Holly’s next single, the derivative “Early In The Morning”, is credited to Bobby Darin and Woody Harris although the song starts exactly like Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” and repeats the hook throughout the song, but with different lyrics. It’s a wonder Charles never sued. Darin presented it to Holly’s record label Brunswick but Darin was not allowed to record it because he was under contract with a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, Atco. Brunswick recorded Darin anyway and released the song under the moniker “The Rinky Dinks”. Atco got wise however and asked for the master tapes or get ready for an upcoming lawsuit. Holly somehow got a hold of this song and recorded it without the Crickets, so it was released on Coral Records.

IT’S SO EASY – THE CRICKETS

Buddy Holly’s next single release, with The Crickets on the Brunswick label, was another one of his instant classics, “It’s So Easy”. Crediting Holly and Norman Petty as co-songwriters, the song miraculously never charted on Billboard, but has remained one of Holly’s best known compositions, recorded by many future artists including Linda Ronstadt who made it a Top Five Hit in 1977.

“People tell me love’s for fools, so here I go, breaking the rules. It seems so easy, oh so doggone easy, it seems so easy, where you’re concerned, my heart has learned. It’s so easy to fall in love. It’s so easy to fall in love.” It’s So Easy – The Crickets

Recorded during the summer of 1958 with a tasty high guitar solo that accompanies the song throughout, Holly first played the song on “American Bandstand” on October 28, 1958. With its bouncy background vocals repeating the title in rapid succession, the song is immediately catchy and, like in almost every Holly song, a deceptively simple melody carrying sweet, simple love sentiment.

“It’s So Easy”, along with many other Holly compositions are owned outright by Paul McCartney through his MPL Communications. Back when Paul was with the Beatles, the group never owned their music, so Paul has been accumulating rights to songs ever since.

HEARTBEAT/WELL ALLRIGHT – BUDDY HOLLY

The final single Holly released in 1958 was a double A side that only made it to Number 82 on Billboard’s Pop Chart but shot up to Number Four in the R&B chart. Both these songs have been recorded by other rock artists who have turned these tunes into their own, delivering the underlying power of these two compositions.
“Heartbeat” starts with a catchy, almost Latin sounding guitar open, like a tango. Upon further listening, it’s obvious that Holly was trying to mimic the sentiment the song‘s lyrics are about by imitating a heart skipping a beat.

“Heartbeat, why do you miss when my baby kisses me…” “Heartbeat – Buddy Holly

Incredibly original in its approach to a theme, Holly sings to his own heart and uses the familiar “kiss/miss” rhyme, but in this case, the word “miss” doesn’t imply missing someone, but refers to his own heart skipping a beat when his love kisses him.

“Heartbeat – why do you skip when my baby’s lips meet mine …heartbeat – why do you flip then give me a skip beat sign…” “Heartbeat” – Buddy Holly

“Heartbeat” was written by his best friend and ex-music partner Bob Montgomery. Norman Petty also shares co-writing credit.

Groups who have recorded their own version of the song include Herman’s Hermits, Beatle lookalikes The Knack, and The Hollies, who even named themselves after Holly. The Knack’s version in particular brings out the muscle in the song.

“Well, Alright” is credited to Holly, Norman Petty and two Crickets, Jerry Allison and Joe Mauldin. It was the b-side of “Heartbeat” and a song with great rock capabilities. So much so that it was re-recorded in 1969 and released by Blind Faith, a group comprised of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Rick Grech and Steve Winwood.


October of 1958 was a pivotal month for Buddy Holly. He and his wife Maria Elena moved to Greenwich Village that month. Holly settled into Apt. 4H in the Brevoort Apartments located at 11 Fifth Avenue in New York, just a block north of Washington Square Park, and enjoyed the bohemian spirit of the Village, often walking up Bleecker Street and visiting clubs like The Bitter End and Café Bizarre to listen to up and coming artists. The Beat Culture and the beatnik, spawned by controversial writers Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, had just begun to sprout around the Village during that time and Holly was there at the start. The Beat Generation as they were called, inspired the 1960s hippie counter culture movement that was to explode in the late Sixties.

“Buddy loved those places. The strange clothes the people wore, the poetry readings, the way they talked to one another. He loved the freedom, the way everyone was allowed to do their thing.” – Maria Elena Holly

Now that he was free of the Crickets, he expressed an interest to record with other well-known artists. At one point, he mentioned Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson as two artists he would like to collaborate with some day. He also was interested in being in movies like Elvis and looked into taking acting classes with Lee Strasberg in his acting studio. Strasberg was a famous actor/teacher who taught the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, among many others. Holly also set up a publishing company called Prism with the intent of spotting and developing new talent.

Holly was experiencing further tough, financial difficulties during this time because of his split from The Crickets, causing a hold on monies owed. As a result of this, he accepted to go on tour the following year with the Winter Club Dance Party starting in late January in order to pay the bills. Holly would headline and be followed by three new rock ‘n’ roll stars that were just beginning to chart. They were Dion & The Belmonts, J.P. Richardson, otherwise known as The Big Bopper, and Ricardo Valenzuela, a young Puerto Rican rock ‘n’ roller who called himself Richie Valens. In the meantime, Buddy spent his time appearing on television and recording more music.

On October 21, 1958, after completing Alan Freed’s “Biggest Show of Stars ’58 – Fall Edition”, Holly went back into Pythian Temple Recording Studios, where he had recorded, among other songs, “Darin’s “Early In The Morning”. The Pythian Temple was a legendary New York recording studio that boasted many famous artists and songs on their roster, including “Rock Around The Clock”. Holly’s session that day would be produced by Dick Jacobs, the same producer he used the last time they recorded there in June and Coral-Brunswick’s new head of A&R. Buddy showed Jacobs a song that Paul Anka had recently written for him to record and asked him to write up an orchestra lead sheet for him, which Jacobs promptly did in order to record it later that same day. Buddy had decided to get away from the four piece rock ‘n’ roll band he had originated (a grouping that would soon be copied by scores of rock groups from then on) and include strings in his recordings, showing an expansion in his desire for musical experimentation. Backed by the Dick Jacobs Orchestra, Buddy Holly recorded four more songs for release in early 1959, to be held until after he came back from his Winter Dance Party Tour

TRUE LOVE WAYS – BUDDY HOLLY

One of Holly’s most hauntingly beautiful songs, “True Love Ways”, crediting Holly and Petty as songwriters, was the song of choice for many wedding dances to come during the Sixties and beyond. Holly wrote it for his wife as a wedding gift and sang it to her when he recorded it that day. To this day, a photograph of Holly sharing a wedding kiss with Maria Elena with the caption “True Love ways” is still in New York’s P.J. Clarke’s Restaurant at Table 53 where the couple shared their first date.

“Just you know why, why you and I, will by and by, know true love ways. Sometimes we’ll sigh, sometimes we’ll cry, and we’ll know why, just you and I know true love ways.” True Love Ways – Buddy Holly

IT DOESN’T MATTER ANYMORE/RAINING IN MY HEART – BUDDY HOLLY

“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” was the song Paul Anka wrote for Buddy. Not only was the melody melancholy and beautiful but the lyrics seemed prophetic. However Holly felt about the song, he sings it softly, almost resignedly. It’s been said that he nailed the song in one take. “IDMA” wouldn’t be released until the following year, making the lyrics even more poignant.

“Do you remember baby, last September, how you held me tight each and every night, oh baby how you drove me crazy but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.” It Doesn’t Matter Anymore – Buddy Holly

RAINING IN MY HEART – BUDDY HOLLY

“Raining In My Heart” was the B-side to “IDMA” and was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the couple who had already written the smash hit and rock ‘n’ roll classic “Bye Bye Love” for The Everly Brothers, who recorded it as their debut in 1957. This song is a sweet tune and Buddy sings it earnestly. Dick Jacobs’ orchestral backing makes this and the other songs recorded that day extra special. The strings accompany Holly’s voice so well and it sounds so different from Holly’s first hit “That’ll Be The Day” having been recorded only a year before. One wonders what other directions Holly would have in store for us as his talent continued to develop by leaps and bounds, from one song to the next.

“The sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view but it’s raining, raining in my heart… The weather man says clear today, he doesn’t know you’ve gone away and it’s raining, raining in my heart…” “Raining In My Heart” – Buddy Holly

John Lennon gives “Raining In My Heart” a nod in his own composition “Dear Prudence” from The Beatles’ White Album when he sings “The sun is up”, instead of ‘out’.

“The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you, dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?” Dear Prudence – The Beatles

On October 25, 1958. Buddy appeared on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show and performed his latest single at the time, “Heartbeat”. Then on the 29th, he appeared on “American Bandstand” and played “It’s So Easy” as well as “Heartbeat”.

As the year drew to a close, Holly settled into his Fifth Avenue apartment with his wife. He had purchased a used Ampex recorder from Norman Petty and had decided to set it up in his apartment and record there. He recorded songs before he started the Winter Dance Party Tour in late January. He would get back to them after the tour ended.

 

THE CHORDETTES

At first glance at the Billboard Pop charts once the rock ‘n’ roll era began in 1955, one would think that The Chordettes were the white answer to The Bobettes, the first girl group in rock ‘n’ roll history. But upon further investigation, you’ll find that The Chordettes were on the outskirts of rock ‘n’ roll, premiering with their first and only Number One hit single “Mr. Sandman” in 1954.

The Chordettes’ style was more barbershop quartet than anything close to the rock ‘n’ roll genre like doo wop. Their harmonies were exquisite and they were well-known for singing a-capella since their harmonies were so on target that they didn’t need musical backing. In “Mr. Sandman” their “bom bom bom bom” vocals they trade off are so pitch perfect that they almost sound like bells.

The original members of the group were Janet Ertel, Carol Buschmann (her sister-in-law), Dorothy Schwartz, and Jinny Osborn/Lockard. In 1952 Lynn Evans replaced Schwartz and in 1953, Margie Needham replaced Osborn who was having a baby, though Osborn later returned to the group.

In 1958, they charted their second biggest single “Lollipop”, charting up to Number Two in Billboard’s Pop chart. Written by Julius Dixson and Beverly Ross, it was originally recorded by a duo named Ronald & Ruby but the composition found more success in The Chordettes’ version.

The origin of the song was one of those many stories where a musician will pick up on a phrase or word and make a song out of it. In this case, Dixson was late for a recording session with his musical partner nineteen year old Ross, explaining that it was due to the fact that his daughter got a lollipop stuck in her hair and they had to spend some time removing it. Ross was immediately inspired by the word “lollipop”, sat down at the piano and composed the song on the spot. Ross got the year old neighbor of her musical partner Dixson to record the song with her and called herself Ruby, disguising her real self because they were an interracial duo and wanted to avoid the controversy.

Ronald & Ruby’s version of “Lollipop” made it up to Number 20 on the Billboard Pop chart in 1957, but became a worldwide hit when The Chordettes recorded and released it reaching the Top Ten in the UK as well.

In retrospect “Lollipop” works best as a children’s tune, but it managed to carve a niche for itself during the Fifties rock ‘n’ roll era as a pop song now ingrained in the fabric of American music, and for that reason alone deserves a mention.

 

THE CHAMPS

Probably one of the most famous rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals of time, “Tequila” by The Champs was recorded as an afterthought, yet when it entered the Billboard Hot One Hundred, within three short weeks it was already at Number One.

Challenge Records, partially owned by country and western singer of the day Gene Autry, was about to release a single by rockabilly singer/songwriter Dave Burgess (aka Dave Dupree), of his recording “Train To Nowhere”, but they needed a song for the single’s flip side. Saxaphone player Danny Flores was recruited to write a tune for the single’s B-side, so he wrote “Tequila”.

Flores, playing the “dirty sax” heard on the record and muttering ‘tequila’ in a low baritone three times throughout the composition, was credited under the name “Chuck Rio” when he wrote the song because he was under contract with another record label. Flores, although born in California, descended from Mexican lineage and was later called “The Godfather of Latino Rock” due to this song, before Ritchie Valens and way, way before Santana and the future explosion of Latin music in the 1980s.

It was essentially just a jam between Flores and his band members and was barely given a second thought once it was completed and relegated to Side B of “Train To Nowhere”, which was an instrumental that mainly mimicked a train’s engine and horn.

DJs back then had the freedom to play what they wanted and as a result, many B-sides became major hits that obscured the purported A-side tune. “Tequila” was one of them. It was only the second instrumental rock ‘n’ roll song to debut on the radio, after Bill Justis’ “Raunchy”, and became the first rock ‘n’ roll song in history to win a Grammy in 1959.

Pundits compare “Tequila” to a Bo Diddley recording called “Dearest Darling”, but besides a similar beat, the melody Flores’ carried on sax is nowhere to be found on Diddley’s song, so “Tequila” remains one of the most original and lasting rock ‘n’ roll songs of time.

“Tequila” still sounds so fresh that it could have been recorded yesterday, and it was given a new boost of recognition twenty-six years later when it was showcased as Pee-Wee Herman’s theme song in Tim Burton’s “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (1984).

Studio executives formed the trio that Danny Flores led just to back up Dave Burgess’ single, but once “Tequila” was recorded, they realized they had to name the band something, so they dubbed them The Champs. It was the first instance of a rock ‘n’ roll band being formed and named after their hit recording.


The Champs never recorded anything that came close to the juggernaut that “Tequila” became. They had minor hits with the catchy, danceable “Limbo Rock” and an instrumental version of “La Cucaracha”, but “Tequila” is not only instantly recognizable to those who have heard it, even in passing, it’s also instantly catchy to anyone who’s never heard it before. It makes you want to dance and it makes you want to laugh when the music stops and Flores comes in with his comical baritone pronouncing ‘tequila’ deliberately. Listeners over the world sang along at clubs and parties because it was so simple and funny and everyone always knows when the lyric comes in.

Danny Flores died in 2006 of pneumonia at the age of 77. He had signed off the US rights to the song soon after it became a hit, but was wise enough to retain its worldwide rights.

 

THE MONOTONES

The Monotones were a doo-wop group that became famous on the coattails of one song “The Book Of Love”. Written by three of its members, the seed for the song was planted in lead singer Charles Patrick’s mind when he heard a Pepsodent commercial ask “wonder where the yellow went”. The word ‘wonder’ stuck in his brain and soon he would start to sing the word in a doo-wop manner.

“I wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder who… (drum kick), who wrote the book of love” – Book Of Love” -The Monotones

That drum kick was an accidental find when they kept hearing a kid kicking a ball against a garage door as they rehearsed. One of those kicks managed to land after the first ‘who’. It sounded good to them, so they added it to the song.

“Book Of Love” reached up to Number Five on The Billboard Pop chart and Number Three in the R&B chart in 1958. It also topped many charts around the world including Australia and the United Kingdom. At one point, it became so popular that the small record label that released it, Mascot, could not handle the volume of copies it had to produce to match demand, so Chess Records’ subsidiary, Argo Records, picked it up and re-issued it, turning it into a hit.

The song’s lyrics and sentiment are comical, as if someone had actually sat down to write a rule book about love and the singer demanded to know who wrote it.

“Chapter One says to love her, you love her with your heart, Chapter Two you tell her you’re never, never, never, never, never gonna part… in Chapter Three remember the meaning of romance, in Chapter Four you break up but you give her just one more chance…” “The Book Of Love” – The Monotones

It’s funny to note the male-dominated point of view in the lyric about breaking up, by saying ‘you give her just one more chance’, as if the break-up will always be due to the fault of the female.

The Monotones disbanded in 1962 after a short string of unsuccessful releases. Of the six members of the group, only two remain alive. The first to go was bass singer John Raynes in 1972 at the young age of 31. His brother, baritone Warren, died ten years later, in 1982, at age forty-five. Frankie Smith, the second bass singer lived 62 years up until his death in 2000. Tenor George Malone died at age 67 in 2007. As of the writing of this in 2014, tenor Warren Davis as well as lead singer and writer of the song Charles Patrick are still alive.

Don McClean mentions this song and many other rock ‘n’ roll instances in his musical paean to Buddy Holly in 1972’s “American Pie”.

“Did you write the book of love and do you have faith in God above, if the Bible tells you so…” “American Pie” – Don McLean

 

THE MOONGLOWS

As if a song about a book about love wasn’t enough, the group The Moonglows wrote a song reciting the emotion’s ten commandments.

It was DJ Alan Freed who suggested the name of the band, riffing from his own nickname, ‘Moondog”. Freed signed them to his own record label in 1952 to little success. The Moonglows then recorded for Chance Records in 1953 but still achieved only minor chart success writing “Secret Love” a composition picked up and sung by Doris Day and showcased in the movie “Calamity Jane”. “Secret Love” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song from a Motion Picture in 1953.

It wasn’t until The Moonglows were signed to Chess Records that they had their first number one R&B hit with their first single from the label, “Sincerely” in 1954.

The song managed to also break into the Top 20 on Billboard’s Pop chart. Towards the beginning of their career, singers Harvey Fuqua and Bobby Lester shared lead vocals, with Lester taking on the ballads and Fuqua focusing on the rock ‘n’ roll numbers, but then Fuqua began to sing lead in 1956, and after three more singles, “See Saw”, “When I’m with You” and “Please Send Me Someone To Love” (which sounds similar to “TCOL”), they released “Ten Commandments…” in 1958. It went up to Number Nine in the R&B chart and Number 22 in the Pop chart. By then, the group was called Harvey and The Moonglows.



Although none of The Moonglows’ recdordings charted very high, “Ten Commandments…” and “Sincerely” are the two most remembered songs by the group, despite the former’s boring melody and silly lyrics with the background vocals echoing each line like a somnambulistic parrot.

“(One.) Thou shalt never love another,{Thou shalt never love another.} (Two.) And stand by me the while.{And stand by me the while.} (Three.) Take happiness with the heartaches. {Take happiness with the heartaches.} (Four.) And go through love wearing a smile. {And go through love wearing a smile.} And, oh, how happy we will be, if we keep the ten commandments of love, of love.” “Ten Commandments of Love” – The Moonglows

I won’t bore you with the other five commandments.

The Moonglows singing style was called “blow” harmony and was based on the technical method used in the background vocals. Only The Chi-Lites, a group from the early Seventies, used this harmonic style again, particularly with their song “Oh Girl”.

The Moonglows’ style and success bridged the gap between themselves and 40’s pre-rock ‘n’ roll groups The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers.


Six members of The Moonglows have since passed away. Harvey Fuqua was the last to go in 2010 at age 80. The first to go was co-lead singer Bobby Lester at age 49 in 1980.

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