CrewCuts InPerson 1960 1500 crop

should the crew-cuts be in the rock & roll hall of fame?

THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE AMONG US. They see a wrong and they set out to right it. Mostly, they fail. Nonethe­less, we think of them as heroic for their ef­forts. There are others who set out merely to suc­ceed at their own goals. While achieving those goals, they may also right a wrong, break down a bar­rier, or ex­pand a horizon. They may not be he­roes but surely they de­serve our recog­ni­tion for ac­com­plishing good. Hell’s Belles, they might even de­serve to be in one of our ubiq­ui­tous Halls of Fame!

In 1953, the Four Tones drove from Canada to Cleve­land to ap­pear on pop­ular disc jockey Bill Ran­dle’s show. The quartet sang the music that was pop­ular then, hoping to em­u­late the suc­cess of groups like the Four Aces and the Four Lads. Randle got them an au­di­tion with Mer­cury Records, who signed the group to a recording con­tract. Randle also sug­gested they change their name to the Crew-Cuts.

The Crew-Cuts were lead singer Rudolph “Rudi” Mauger with Pat Bar­rett, John Perkins, and Ray Perkins. Their first hit came in 1954 with Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby, a straight pop record in the mold of many pop records of the ’40s. It had more in common with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy than any record that ac­tu­ally boogie-woogied!

Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby was climbing the pop charts when the Crew-Cuts were rushed into the studio to record a ver­sion of Sh-Boom. This led them into playing a small but im­por­tant role in the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of rock & roll in the early 1950s. 1

 

Crows Gee Rama 78 600

In early 1954, the Crows’ “Gee” be­came the first of the black vocal group sound that would come to be known as doo-wop made the na­tional pop charts. It reached the Top 20 on both Bill­board and Cash Box. Al­though Rama pro­moted it as a jump blues, some his­to­rians con­sider it to be the first rock & roll hit, and this was more than a year be­fore Bill Haley & the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” fired the rock & roll shot heard ’round the world.

Gee, yes I love her

This was a playful ditty that had just been re­leased by the rhythm & blues vocal group the Chords. Mer­cury had the Crew-Cuts cut a sweet­ened, or­ches­trated ver­sion ex­pressly for the white market. They did this knowing that most white radio lis­teners would never hear the Chords record.

In 1954, there was little com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket­place be­tween black rhythm & blues records and white “cover ver­sions” be­cause they would be played and pur­chased in two dif­ferent mar­ket­places! The same ap­plies to black covers ver­sions of white pop and country hits.

There were signs that in­te­gra­tion was oc­cur­ring. Ear­lier in 1954, the Crows’ Gee had be­come the first black R&B “group vocal” record to make a big splash on the na­tional pop charts, reaching the Top 20 on both Bill­board and Cash Box. The Crows had ac­com­plished this without any as­sis­tance from a white cover ver­sion bringing at­ten­tion to it.

Sh-Boom had a very dif­ferent story.

 

CrewCuts RockAndRollBash LP 600

The Crew-Cuts’ ROCK AND ROLL BASH album (Mer­cury MG-20144) fea­tured most of their “im­por­tant” rock & roll-flavored hits, in­cluding “Sh-Boom,” “Earth Angel,” “A Story Un­told,” “Ko Ko Mo,” and “Gum Drop.” Re­leased during the first half of 1956, it may have been the first LP to use “Rock and Roll” in the title.

Life could be a dream

The five mem­bers of the Chords wrote Sh-Boom as the B-side to their first single on At­lantic Records’ newly-formed sub­sidiary, Cat Records. The A-side a was a cover of Patti Page’s Cross Over The Bridge, which had been a Top 10 pop hit a few months ear­lier. It was ripe for ex­ploita­tion in the black market.

On July 3, 1954, the Chords’ Sh-Boom de­buted on the Bill­board Rhythm and Blues Records survey. Nei­ther it nor the for­gotten A-side made that mag­a­zine’s pop charts.

On July 3, 1954, the Crew-Cuts’ Sh-Boom (Mer­cury 70404) de­buted at #26 on the Cash Box Best Selling Sin­gles survey. It was ac­com­pa­nied at that po­si­tion by the Chords’ Sh-Boom (Cat 104). This was pos­sible be­cause Cash Box often listed more than one ver­sion of a hit song in the same chart po­si­tion. They did this even when it was ob­vious which ver­sion was selling the most records.

By the time Sh-Boom reached #1 on Au­gust 7, 1954, it was ob­vious that the Crew-Cuts were out­selling the Chords by a wide margin. But it also im­plies that, ac­cording to the re­tail sources that Cash Box sur­veyed, the black record was selling in white mar­kets! Both records re­mained at the top spot on the Best Selling Sin­gles chart for seven weeks, making it one of the biggest hits of the year.

 

The Crew-Cuts ap­pear to have been piv­otal in get­ting black records played on white radio sta­tions in 1954-1955.

 

On the Bill­board Top 100 chart, the Crew-Cuts’ Sh-Boom was also #1 for seven weeks, but the Chords’ ver­sion was nowhere to found. It didn’t spend a single week on the Bill­board survey!

Did the Crew-Cuts’ cover help the Chords’ orig­inal make it to the upper realms of the pop charts?

Of course, it did!

The im­mense pop­u­larity of the Crew-Cuts record took the song to the top­per­most of the pop­per­most on the Cash Box chart. It made it pos­sible for the Chords’ Sh-Boom to be the first rhythm & blues record by a black group to reach #1 on a na­tional pop chart, even if it did riding the coat­tails of the white ver­sion!

Had the Crew-Cuts not cov­ered Sh-Boom, would the Chords’ record have fol­lowed the Crows Gee into the higher reaches of the pop charts? Any an­swer is spec­u­la­tion, but with Gee the sole prece­dent, the safe bet would be “No.”

 

CrewCuts Topps 1957 HitStars 41 300

In 1957, the Topps Chewing Gum Com­pany pub­lished a set of 88 Hit Stars trading cards. They li­censed the im­ages of most of the pop stars that they thought kids would want. The Crew-Cuts were card #41. The back of the card claimed that “Sh-Boom” had sold al­most 2,000,000 copies!

Earth Angel

In late 1954, the Pen­guins re­leased what was to be­come one of the sig­na­ture records of ’50s doo-wop music, Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine). It topped the Bill­board Rhythm & Blues Records survey in early 1955, staying at #1 for three weeks. 2

The Crew-Cuts re­leased their ver­sion of Earth Angel in Jan­uary 1955 as the B-side to Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So). The A-side was a white­washed ver­sion of the orig­inal honking ver­sion by Gene & Eu­nice. It peaked at #3 on Cash Box but sharing that po­si­tion with Perry Co­mo’s even pop­pier reading of the song.

Again, the DJs flipped the record over and Earth Angel was the bigger hit, reaching #2 on Cash Box. Like Sh-Boom, the Crew-Cuts record shared that po­si­tion with the Pen­guins’ Earth Angel, meaning they had dragged an­other black rhythm & blues record to the top of the white pop charts!

On Bill­board, the Crew-Cuts record was also a double-sided hit: Earth Angel reached #3 and Ko Ko Mo made it to #6. The Pen­guins’ Earth Angel was also a hit, reaching #8 without pig­gy­backing on the Crew Cuts’ record. (Ko Ko Mo failed to chart on Bill­board.)

This could mean that the Crew-Cuts had helped the Pen­guins record find a market with white au­di­ences. Or it could mean that the in­te­gra­tion of Top 40 radio was picking up steam.

 

CrewCuts posed photo walking 1000

Don’t be angry, gumdrop

The Crew-Cuts con­tinued to have hits with white ver­sions of black records. In 1955, they placed three sides on the na­tional pop charts with ver­sions of Nappy Brown’s Don’t Be Angry, the Nut­megs’ A Story Un­told, and Otis Williams & the Charms’ Gum Drop.

Brown’s Don’t Be Angry also reached the Cash Box Top 10, tied at that po­si­tion with the Crew-Cuts. It did not make the Bill­board survey.

The Nut­megs’ A Story Un­told was dragged to #15 on the Cash Box chart by the suc­cess of the Crew-Cuts ver­sion. It did not make the Bill­board survey.

The Charms’ Gum Drop did not tag along with the Crew-Cuts ver­sion onto ei­ther Cash or Bill­board.

By 1956, black rhythm & blues artists were hearing their records played on Top 40 radio sta­tions around the country. The need for white covers of black hits evap­o­rated. The Crew-Cuts con­tinued to reach the Top 20 with An­gels In The Sky and Seven Days (1956) and Young Love (1957). The latter was one of three ver­sions to make the Top 20, the others being by Sonny James and Tab Hunter.

In 1958, the Crew-Cuts moved to RCA Victor, who was un­able to re­turn them to the pop charts. The group moved to ever-smaller com­pa­nies looking for their former glory. Their last single was Yea, Yea, She Wants Me, a rather limp Bea­tles knock-off for Chess Records, of all places. 3

 

CrewCuts MusicAlaCarte LP 400

The Crew-Cuts fourth album was MUSIC ALA CARTE (MG-20199) and fea­tured a cover photo of the guys in a sporty little two-seater that looks like it be­longs on a West Coast album from 1963-1964. While Mer­cury con­sis­tently spelled their name with a hy­phen on their sin­gles, here it is spelled as one word on the cover but as two words without a hy­phen on the record la­bels. Had I been head of Mer­cury Records, this album would have been ti­tled MUSIC ALA CAR(TE).

Hall of Famers?

Do the Crew-Cuts, the artists most as­so­ci­ated with “cov­ering” black records with in­fe­rior pop ver­sion and stealing all the thunder (and the moolah), de­serve to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? No one lis­tening to their string of hits from 1954-1957 would con­nect them with the nascent rock & roll move­ment of the 1950s.

They sound like the kind of music that rock & roll was meant to dis­place from the playlists of AM radio during those years. They sound, well, kinda corny.

By the time they made their first record in 1953, Amer­ican so­ciety had been slug­gishly, halt­ingly in­te­grating for years. I think it’s safe to say that black mu­si­cians making rhythm & blues music would have even­tu­ally found their way onto radio sta­tions that nor­mally played pop music for a white au­di­ence.

 

“After the ex­plo­sion of rock & roll in 1956, it soon be­came clear that teenagers pre­ferred the real ar­ticle.”

 

I also think it’s safe to say that white rock & roll singers has­tened that process along con­sid­er­ably. In 1955, there were only a handful of R&B records played on pop sta­tions, few of which were big hits.

“The main reason the Crew Cuts’ recording of Sh-Boom made it to #1 in place of the far su­pe­rior orig­inal ver­sion by the Chords was that most main­stream disc jockeys around the country thought the watered-down pop ver­sion would be more ac­cept­able to their lis­teners.

The record, the first rock-affiliated single to top the charts, opened the door in 1955 to cover ver­sions of R&B hits by such white pop groups as well as such solo acts as Pat Boone. After the ex­plo­sion of rock & roll in 1956, it soon be­came clear that teenagers pre­ferred the real ar­ticle.” (Doowopheaven.)

By the end of 1956—after the erup­tion of the cul­tural vol­cano that was Elvis Presley—almost any white teenager could hear al­most any black R&B record they wanted to, whether on the radio, in at their local store, or at a friend’s house. Had rock & roll not hap­pened, the in­te­gra­tion could have taken many more years.

As the Chords, the Pen­guins, Nappy Brown, and the Nut­megs never had an­other big pop hit, it is not un­rea­son­able to argue that the Crew-Cuts helped them all to their biggest mo­ment of suc­cess and fame on the mostly white, mostly con­ser­v­a­tive Top 40 radio sta­tions around the country. 

Whether they in­tended to or not, the Crew-Cuts ap­pear to have been piv­otal in get­ting black records played on white radio sta­tions in 1954-1955. This was be­fore Bill Haley & the Comets opened the flood­gates with Rock Around The Clock and two years be­fore Elvis and the Rock & Roll Rev­o­lu­tion that fol­lowed him.

So if the in­te­gra­tion of black music into main­stream America is im­por­tant, then per­haps those artists who were part of jump­starting that in­te­gra­tion de­serve more than a mere and a be­lated nod at that—of ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

And those artists in­clude the Great Ho­mog­e­nizers, the Crew-Cuts and Pat Boone. I doubt ei­ther set out to open up the air­waves of white America to the sounds and rhythms of black America, but they did anyway …

If rock & roll had not hap­pened, the in­te­gra­tion of rhythm & blues music into Top 40 radio could have taken many more years that it did. Click To Tweet

CrewCuts InPerson PhillySign 1960 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of bill­boards ad­ver­tising the Crew-Cuts and Anita Bryant on the Steel Pier in At­lantic City. The photo was taken on July 26, 1960, on Wood­land Av­enue (from 58th Street to 60th Street) in Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­vania. (Philly His­tory Blog)

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The suc­cess of the Crew-Cuts record also gave re­newed life to their ear­lier single, Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby. It peaked at #11 while Earth Angel was #1.

2   The term doo-wop wasn’t ap­plied to black rhythm & blues group vocal 45s until years after the gen­re’s heyday. Many of the orig­inal col­lec­tors of those records dis­liked the term.

3   It’s so am­a­teur­ishly per­formed and recorded—listen to those drums—that it’s kind of charming.

 

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Don Hargrove

Today as well as in the 50’s mu­si­cians under con­tract for the most part do what they are told by their Co. The public some­times dis­agrees with what the Co. does & in the case of Pat Boone they get a bad rap. My opinion is mu­si­cians are out­standing cit­i­zens with spe­cial tal­ents. Back re­cently from New Or­leans Jazz & Her­itage 50th Fest & had an in­ter­esting con­ver­sa­tion with sound person & manger for wwoz.org radio (broad­cast live con­certs from the Fest as well as the Cres­cent City Blues Fest in Oct) . Also in­cluded was an em­ployee of a local PBS sta­tion that lives just across the lake from NO in Slidell. He told me his neighbor is one of the orig­inal Crew Cuts. When he was mar­ried a few yrs. ago he ask his neighbor to sing at the wed­ding & that be­came a high­light. His voice is still in great shape & he will do local events for charity. There you go an­other out­standing cit­izen.

i think you an­swered your own ques­tion when you wrote “rock and roll”.

And those artists in­clude the Great Ho­mog­e­nizers, the Crew-Cuts and Pat Boone. I doubt ei­ther set out to open up the air­waves of white America to the sounds and rhythms of black America, but they did anyway…