Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll 1958 Part 1’ Category

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.

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