Medium photo 1961 RayCharles piano France 1500 crop 1

the #1 hit records on the pop charts 1961

THIS IS THE SECOND in a se­ries of ten ar­ti­cles listing and ad­dressing the #1 records of the year as they ap­peared on Cash Box mag­a­zine’s Top 100 chart from 1960 through 1969. It was orig­i­nally pub­lished as “Take Good Care Of Runaround Sue” on my pub­li­ca­tion Tell It Like It Was on Medium on Jan­uary 15, 2019. The ar­ticle below is iden­tical to that one.

Please read “In­tro­duc­tion To The #1 Records On The Cash Box Pop Chart Of The 1960s” be­fore reading this ar­ticle. It will ex­plain the na­ture of this project, in­tro­duce you to the writers whose opin­ions follow, and will make every­thing easier to un­der­stand.

The opin­ions ex­pressed below are those of John Ross, Lew Shiner, and me. John is the talent be­hind the Round Place In The Middle web­site where he opines about rock & roll, western movies, and de­tec­tive novels. John is my fa­vorite writer writing about rock & roll. He is cur­rently working on his first novel.

Lew is one of the finest nov­el­ists in America. Since you’re reading his name here, start with his novel Glimpses, which com­bines time-travel with fan­tasy and the mi­lieu of ’60s rock music. Follow that with De­serted Cities Of The Heart (time-travel and psy­che­delic mush­rooms!) and then his latest, Out­side The Gates Of Heaven, which also takes place in the ’60s.

If you want to skim through this ar­ticle and skip around from record to record or com­ment to com­ment, that works and you’ll have fun. But this ar­ticle will make more sense if you read it from be­gin­ning to end.

One of the first things you will no­tice is that each of the ar­ti­cles opens with a cal­endar of events that re­flect the zeit­geist of the era. Hope­fully, these will give you some back­ground and some con­text in which the #1 records of that were made.

 

Medium photo 1961 Shirelles 1500 crop

FEATURED ARTIST: The Shirelles were the only fe­male artists to have a #1 record on Cash Box in 1961! The suc­cess of Will You Love Me To­morrow? ush­ered in what is called the “girl group sound” that was a high­light of the early 1960s. The term girl group was not used at the time and was ap­plied retroac­tively, much to the cha­grin of many of the groups.

In Charlie Gillett’s in­flu­en­tial book The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll (1970), he re­ferred to these records as “girl talk” which makes more sense as it in­cluded solo singers like Lesley Gore and Dusty Spring­field (who got lumped in with “girl groups” anyway), and is a phrase women ac­tu­ally use to dis­cuss them­selves, as op­posed to some­thing male critics made up.

1961

Jan­uary
Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower sev­ered diplo­matic and con­sular re­la­tions with Cuba, and two weeks later gave a farewell ad­dress as Pres­i­dent in which he warned of the in­creasing power of the military-industrial com­plex.

Feb­ruary
The Bea­tles per­formed for the first time at the Cavern Club in Liv­er­pool, Eng­land.

March
Pres­i­dent Kennedy es­tab­lished the Peace Corps.

April
The CIA-backed Bay of Pigs in­va­sion of Cuba failed.

May
The newly formed Freedom Riders began making bus trips be­tween states in the South to test the new Supreme Court in­te­gra­tion de­ci­sion. A Freedom Riders bus was fire-bombed in Al­abama while an­other group of Freedom Riders was ar­rested in Mis­sis­sippi for dis­turbing the peace merely by get­ting off their bus.

June
G.P. Put­nam’s Sons pub­lished Robert Hein­lein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

July
Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy gave a tele­vised speech on the Berlin crisis, urging Amer­i­cans to build fallout shel­ters.

Au­gust
Marvel Comics pub­lished The Fan­tastic Four #1 (cover-dated No­vember), which was the cre­ation of Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist) and ush­ered in the Marvel Age of Comics.

Sep­tember
Walt Dis­ney’s Won­derful World of Color began broad­casting in color on tele­vi­sion in­stead of black & white.

Oc­tober
Roger Maris of the New York Yan­kees hit his 61st home run in the last game of the season, set­ting a new record for homers in a season.

No­vember
Simon & Schuster pub­lished Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 in the US.

De­cember
Pres­i­dent Kennedy sent the first Amer­ican he­li­copters to Saigon along with 400 per­sonnel, meaning Amer­ican in­volve­ment in the Vietnam War of­fi­cially began—as did “the six­ties.”

 

Medium photo 1961 ElvisPresley

By 1961, the wild rock & roller’s head of un­ruly hair, side­burns, and good-humored sneer had been ex­punged from Elvis Pres­ley’s per­sona. In­stead, Elvis was now the movie matinee idol, a good ol’ boy-next-door who al­ways smiled. This may have hurt his cred­i­bility: while the op­er­atic Sur­render reached #1 in the US, his three great rock & roll sides (Feel So Bad, Little Sister, and His Latest Flame) failed to top the Amer­ican charts.

Orgasmic pop and boogity-boogity-shoop

Tech­ni­cally the first year of the decade, 1961 fea­tured the same mix­ture of genres at the top of the chart as 1960 had. There was a less­ening of country & western fla­voring as the split be­tween that genre and gen­eral pop widened at this time. As John stated in the year-end ob­ser­va­tions for 1960:

“If you ran a country sta­tion and in­sisted on playing records that were also being pro­moted to pop (or, God forbid, rhythm & blues) sta­tions, then the record com­pa­nies would not de­liver their country product to your sta­tion. The im­pli­ca­tions for Amer­ican music and cul­ture were not in­signif­i­cant.”

Sim­i­larly, there were no real nov­elty records that topped the chart this year and only one dance craze record. While rhythm & blues and rock & roll were still sta­ples of Top 40 radio, it’s re­ally not dif­fi­cult to see how someone—a his­to­rian, say, or even an acolyte of the Crit Illuminati—looking at the #1 records of 1960 and 1961 would ar­rive at the con­clu­sion that we were in some kind of nadir for those genres.

 


 

Medium 45 1961 BertKaempfert Wonderland 600

Jan­uary 7

Bert Kaempfert & Or­chestra
Won­der­land By Night
Decca 9-31141
(1 week)

Won­der­land By Night was an­other in a line of rather sappy easy-listening chart-toppers that stretches back for years. It was band­leader Bert Kaempfert’s first big US hit and de­spite the fact that he placed three more sides in the Top 40 he is gen­er­ally thought of as a one-hit-wonder. He is better known as a song­writer and con­tributed to such hits as:

•  Wooden Heart was based on the German folk song Muss I Denn and was recorded by Elvis Presley for his first post-Army movie G. I. BLUES. Re­leased as a single in Eu­rope in 1961, it leaped to #1 in Ger­many and the UK, al­though RCA Victor opted not to re­lease it as a single in the US. That miss was picked up by Joe Dowell, whose ver­sion reached #1 on the Bill­board Hot 100 in 1961.

•  Moon Over Naples be­came a well-known song when Eng­lish lan­guage lyrics were added and it was reti­tled Spanish Eyes. Al Mar­ti­no’s ver­sion reached the Top 20 in 1966 in the US but was a much bigger hit in Eu­rope.

•  Beddy Bye be­came a well-known song when Eng­lish lan­guage lyrics were added and it was reti­tled Strangers In The Night and reached the top of the charts in the US for Frank Sinatra in 1966 (see June 18, 1966 entry).

Lew: The thing I re­member best about this is that it’s a Mantovani-style schlock in­stru­mental, but has sev­eral weird fea­tures. First, there’s the reverb-heavy elec­tric guitar playing single notes—effectively a second bass line, but in the tenor reg­ister. This came through nicely on an AM car radio, where the bass was typ­i­cally in­audible.

The second was the Wurl­itzer organ, and the third was the high har­mony back­ground vo­cals. All three of these el­e­ments were more as­so­ci­ated with pop or R&B, and the re­verb guitar and high har­monies were big trade­marks of Nashville’s “coun­try­politan” sound. I’m sure these el­e­ments of­fended a lot of purists, but they also fresh­ened up the 101 Strings sound for a new decade.

John: I con­fess I had to pull this up on YouTube and even then it didn’t bring back any mem­o­ries. I may never have heard it. Kind of like the intro, but this is the sort of record that con­vinced a lot of people rock & roll had died.

Neal: Kaempfert has an­other claim to fame: he is the first person to have recorded the Bea­tles pro­fes­sion­ally. In June 1961, he cut sev­eral sides with singer Tony Sheridan in a German studio with a backing band that con­sisted of John Lennon, Paul Mc­Cartney, George Har­rison, and Pete Best.

From these ses­sions, one single was re­leased, My Bonnie / The Saints, cred­ited to Tony Sheridan & the Beat Brothers. Not many people bought it out­side of Ham­burg, but it caught the at­ten­tion of a record re­tailer in London named Brian Ep­stein.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (3 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: 2,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯
Lew :
Neal:

 

Medium 45 1961 FerranteTeicher Exodus PS 600

Medium 45 1961 FerranteTeicher Exodus 600

Jan­uary 14–January 21

Fer­rante & Te­icher
Ex­odus
United Artists UA-274
(2 weeks)

Music to make you want to watch a movie. In (white) house­holds across America in the ’60s, it was common to find al­bums by Fer­rante & Te­icher and other pop-classical pi­anists such as Peter Nero and Roger Williams.

Lew: Man, I loved this when I was a kid. I liked Fer­rante & Te­icher and I loved the Ernest Gold sound­track ver­sion. There were so many great movie and TV themes in the ’60s: Route 66, Mag­nif­i­cent Seven, Peter Gunn, and James Bond.

Has there been a great theme song since Star Wars? Not an in­de­pen­dent song that was used in a movie, but an in­stru­mental theme specif­i­cally com­posed for a film or TV show?

John: Ah, yes. Or­gasmic Pop. Over­whelming! I can prac­ti­cally see scenes from the movie (which I’ve never seen). But it must have sounded a little weird on the radio.

Neal: Arthur Fer­rante and Louis Te­icher first reached the Top 10 with Theme From The Apart­ment, from the de­lightful 1960 movie with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. They scored again later in 1961 with Tonight from West Side Story. They al­most reached the top a second time in 1969 with Mid­night Cowboy.

Pat Boone was in­spired by this melody to write lyrics to ac­com­pany it and is­sued it as The Ex­odus Song (This Land Is Mine). While it was not a major hit, Boone con­siders it one of the most im­por­tant record­ings of his ca­reer.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯
Lew : ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 Shirelles WillYouLoveMeTomorrow 600

Jan­uary 28–February 4

The Shirelles
Will You Love Me To­morrow
Scepter 1211
(2 weeks)

The Shirelles’ Will You Love Me To­morrow was ar­guably the first major hit with the girl-group sound. Pub­lisher Don Kir­shner of­fered it to Johnny Mathis but was de­clined. The Shirelles were an im­por­tant group in the first few years of the decade, with ten sides reaching the Top 20 on the pop or R&B charts. They reached #1 on Cash Box a second time with Sol­dier Boy (see May 5, 1962, entry).

John: Maybe not the first major hit, as the Bob­bettes had reached the Top 10 with Mr. Lee in 1957 and the Chan­tels the Top 20 with Maybe in 1958. But it was def­i­nitely the first #1 and the Shirelles es­tab­lished the ethos that came to be called girl-group—much to the cha­grin of many of its most fa­mous practitioners—as a con­sis­tent chart pres­ence.

Also a big event for its writers, Gerry Goffin and Ca­role King. They quit their day jobs. Since cov­ered by prac­ti­cally every fe­male singer worth her salt and no small number of males as well—and never touched.

Neal: Odd but I don’t think of Mr. Lee or Maybe as part of the early ’60s girl-group phe­nom­enon, more like pre­cur­sors. Maybe I should.

John: It might also be worth men­tioning that black fe­male har­mony groups had al­most no chart pres­ence, in ei­ther pop or R&B, be­fore rock & roll. Why this should be, when white fe­male har­mony groups had been pop­ular since the ’30s, I have no idea.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew : ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 LawrenceWelk Calcutta 600 1

Feb­ruary 11–March 4

Lawrence Welk & Or­chestra
Cal­cutta
Dot 45-16161
(4 weeks)

Tivoli Melody was a pop­ular German song reti­tled for Amer­ican au­di­ences be­cause the German lyrics refer to the In­dian city of Cal­cutta. It sounds like the theme music to a movie star­ring Au­drey Hep­burn.

John: Given how many times I watched The Lawrence Welk Show with my par­ents, I must have heard this. I can un­der­stand why it didn’t sink it. I just lis­tened to it and the melody left my head while it was playing. What I can’t quite un­der­stand is how it be­came such a big hit—or how, after such a slow start to the year, 1961 ended up being such a great year for rock & roll.

Neal: From 1955 through 1982, The Lawrence Welk Show was a vir­tual in­sti­tu­tion of pleasant if ut­terly bland pop music for adults. Among other reg­u­lars, the show fea­tured the Lennon Sis­ters for more than ten years, pro­viding them with a spring­board to a modest recording ca­reer. I be­lieve I had a crush on one of the sis­ters for a while.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John:
Lew :
Neal: ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 ChubbyChecker PonyTime 600

March 11

Chubby Checker
Pony Time
Parkway P-818
(1 week)

Pony Time was an­other in the string of dance craze hits started by Chubby Checker the year be­fore. Checker could sing and while my memory of these records from back then is that they were in­ter­change­able, they ac­tu­ally sound pretty good fifty-seven years later. And any song with the backing lyrics “boogity-boogity-boogity-boogity-shoop” de­mands some form of at­ten­tion!

Lew: Having gotten fat—or at least Chubby—off of the Twist (which he swiped from Hank Bal­lard), Checker tried to pro­mote an­other dance craze, and was mildly suc­cessful. If you’ve ever seen anyone ac­tu­ally do the Pony you’ll wonder how it got as far as it did.

Neal: Lew, the last time I tried to do the Pony was only a few years ago. But I boogity-boogitied to the left too fast and threw my shoop out of whack. Get­ting old is tough.

John: I’ll go ahead and es­tab­lish my bonafides as the young whip­per­snapper of the group: Ex­cept for the Twist, I’ve never been able to iden­tify any ’60s-era dance by sight. I need to pull up my old Hol­ly­wood A-Go-Go tapes and do some re­search!

For the Pony, though, you can just go to YouTube and check out Chubby in­structing you on how to do the pony time! I’ll just note that if “Chubby” were en­tering the Biz today, he’d need a dif­ferent nick­name. In the age of obe­sity, he looks thin as a rake.

Neal: As per your sug­ges­tion, Chubby showing us all how to do the Pony is linked to “YouTube” in your com­ment above. Watching him on this video I gotta say, he sure can sing and move! Re­minds me of Elvis, with whom he was good friends. Chubby was al­ways in­vited to the par­ties Elvis threw in Vegas, which no one ever talks about de­spite every star in town showing up, in­vited or not. But that’s (yet) an­other story.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (3 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯
Lew :
Neal: ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 ElvisPresley Surrender PS 600

Medium 45 1961 ElvisPresley Surrender 600

March 18–March 25

Elvis Presley
Sur­render
RCA Victor 47-7850
(2 weeks)

Orig­i­nally written in 1902 by Ernesto De Curtis as Torna A Sur­ri­ento, the song was given Eng­lish lyrics by Claude Aveling and was recorded by many pop singer as Come Back To Sor­rento. Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman took that song, re­arranged it, and gave it a second set of Eng­lish lyrics and Elvis took it to the top of charts around the world as Sur­render.

In some re­spects, this is one of the most amazing vocal per­for­mances of Elvis Pres­ley’s ca­reer: his ability to glide from one oc­tave to another—and better, from one seeming emo­tion to another—has never been better dis­played.

John: One of many times Elvis used a voice—or at least a vari­a­tion on one of his basic voices—that he never quite used again. Hard to keep track of that fellow.

Lew: I’ll just note that this was a very ex­plicit cha-cha-cha rhythm, com­plete with claves. If cha-cha-cha wasn’t the orig­inal US dance craze, what was? And it’s cer­tainly the only one still being danced on a reg­ular basis, by Latinos and gringos both. Also note the opening, which sounds sus­pi­ciously like P. F. Sloane’s theme to the tele­vi­sion se­ries Se­cret Agent, which was still a couple of years in the fu­ture.

Neal: I re­member the first time my friends and I lis­tened to this on acid back in the early ’70s—yeah, I forced my friends to listen to Elvis while we were tripping—we all thought it was the most sen­sual and sexual singing we had ever heard. My opinion hasn’t changed much in the in­ter­vening years.

RCA Victor did not seek im­me­diate RIAA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for an of­fi­cial Gold Record Award for Sur­render. This was rec­ti­fied on March 27, 1992, when it re­ceived a Gold Record Award for 500,000 sales and a Plat­inum Record Award for 1,000,000 sales.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: 5,000,000
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew : ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 Marcels BlueMoon PS 600 1

Medium 45 1961 Marcels BlueMoon 600

April 1–April 15

The Marcels
Blue Moon
Colpix CP-186
(3 weeks)

Old-fashioned doo-wop had an­other brief pe­riod of pop­u­larity with both the Marcels’ hopped-up reading of the chestnut Blue Moon and Ernie-K-Doe’s de­light­fully dopey Mother-In-Law (May 6–May 13, 1961). The Marcels’ record boldly takes the song where few would think (or dare) to take it and with a neu­rotic en­ergy that can be heard as satir­ical but rarely is.

John: I wonder if this record kicked off the doo-wop re­vival? It sounds like it should have kicked off some­thing!

Neal: There are count­less ren­di­tions of this song since Rodgers and Hart wrote it more than eighty years ago. The two out­standing ver­sions are this one—the big hit record version—and Elvis Pres­ley’s ver­sion from 1954.

But whereas the Marcels’ ver­sion is all manic en­ergy, Pres­ley’s ver­sion is eerily slow, oth­er­worldly, to­tally un­like any­thing he recorded be­fore or after. Too bad RCA Victor never thought to push it as a single—it would have made an amazing hit in 1956.

Fi­nally, the Marcels had a second hit with a ram­bunc­tious reading of the chestnut Heartaches, which peaked at #16 later in ’61. Alas, they never came close to the Top 40 again.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (3 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew : ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 DelShannon Runaway 600

April 22–April 29

Del Shannon
Run­away
Big Top 45-3067
(3 weeks)

Run­away was one of the most un­usual sounding chart-toppers of its time, due both to Shan­non’s amazing voice and his part­ner’s amazing key­board in­stru­ment. Ac­cording to Del Shannon, “We were on stage and Max hit an A minor and a G and I said, ‘Max, play that again, it’s a great change.’ ”

The next day Shannon wrote lyrics to the music: “That night I went back to the club and I told Max to play an in­stru­mental on his Musitron for the middle part, and when he played that solo, we had Run­away.”

After two weeks at #1, Run­away was bumped out of the top spot and then re­turned to #1 on May 20, 1961, for a third week as the na­tion’s best-selling record.

Lew: The un­earthly key­board sound on this record is cour­tesy of the Musitron, in­vented by Max Crook, a member of Shan­non’s band. The Musitron is a hy­brid syn­the­sizer, mod­i­fied from some­thing called a Clavi­o­line, an elec­tronic key­board de­vel­oped in France in the 1940s. Its eerie wail helped make this record a hit.

John: The won­drous thing is that Shannon’s voice was ac­tu­ally a match for the Musitron. Since a guy in his own band in­vented the in­stru­ment (news to me, thanks Lew!) I wonder who in­spired who? I mean, I can imagine hearing Del Shannon for the first time and feeling the need to in­vent some­thing.

Neal: This was one of the great rock & roll hits of the early ’60s. Del Shannon con­tinued to make great records for years but none would come close to top­ping the charts. He was the first Amer­ican artist to record a Lennon-McCartney song as a po­ten­tial hit single when he re­leased From Me To You in June 1963, a few weeks after Vee-Jay re­leased the Bea­tles own ver­sion in the US.

Shan­non’s ver­sion reached #67, beating out the orig­inal ver­sion, which failed to even reach the Top 100. So it was that Del’s record made From Me To You the first Lennon–McCartney com­po­si­tion to reach the Amer­ican charts.

John: Shannon was in­ter­viewed on Bob Costas’s old late-night show (where Costas just sat with a guest for half-an-hour and asked in­tel­li­gent questions—what a con­cept!). He told the story of hearing From Me To You while touring with the Bea­tles in Eng­land (where they were al­ready a big deal).

I don’t re­member all the de­tails, but ap­par­ently, Del re­ceived some sort of per­mis­sion to cover this while he was playing a show in Eng­land with the lads and John, later re­al­izing it prob­ably meant he was going to re­lease a com­peting ver­sion, tried to do some fur­ther ne­go­ti­ating. At which point Del cupped his hand to his ear and said, “Eh, what’s that you say?”

A lot of Amer­ican acts saw the Bea­tles in Eu­rope throughout the early ’60s. So far as I know, Brenda Lee was the only one who ac­tu­ally tried to con­vince her record com­pany to sign them. “But what do they sound like?” the suits kept asking. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “The songs will be worth a for­tune.”

They po­litely re­fused to listen. Just re­member, the suits run every­thing. That’s why things are the way they are.

Neal: Shannon came right back with an­other Top 10 hit with his follow-up song, Hats Off To Larry. He en­joyed a few other sig­nif­i­cant hits (Little Town Flirt in 1962 and Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun) in ’64. After that, he found it tough get­ting the AM radio sta­tions to play his records. He was a much bigger star in the UK, where he scored seven Top 10 hits.

Fi­nally, Elvis made Run­away a reg­ular part of his set in Vegas in 1969-1970 and is­sued a ver­sion on the ON STAGE – FEBRUARY 1970 album. His reading is so good that it that could have been is­sued as a single in 1970.

John: The great blogger Sheila O’Malley likes to oc­ca­sion­ally cel­e­brate a sub-genre of records where the singer ex­presses a kind of pure, ven­omous ha­tred for the person who just broke up with them and stomped on their heart. Few records have ever caught that idea more per­fectly than Hats Off to Larry, where the poison-pill lyric is force-multiplied by Shannon’s in­sane vocal by a factor of in­finity.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (4 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew : ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 ErnieK Doe MotherInLaw 600

May 6–May 13

Ernie K-Doe
Mother-In-Law
Minit 623
(3 weeks)

Ernie K-Doe was a stage name for Ernest Kador, a New Or­leans singer and drummer. After two weeks at #1, Mother-In-Law was bumped out of the top spot and then re­turned to #1 on May 27, 1961, for a third week as the na­tion’s best-selling record. On the pop charts, Kador was a one-hit-wonder, but he had a few more modest hits on the rhythm & blues charts.

John: I’ve never been mar­ried. This song might have played a part in that de­ci­sion. And I’m sorry, but living in a world where this could be #1 couldn’t have been all bad.

Lew: Neal listed this as a doo-wop song, which is fair, but to me it’s more in the New Or­leans tra­di­tion of Fats Domino et al. It’s written and pro­duced by the leg­endary Allen Tou­s­saint (Neville Brothers, Lee Dorsey, and so many more), whose slip­pery rhythms would go on to in­flu­ence so many groups, in­cluding The Band.

Neal: It’s funny—I al­ways thought of it as a fun doo-wop record but it makes much more sense as a fun New Or­leans record! Kador never came close to the Top 40 again, making him a le­git­i­mate one-hit-wonder. Due to his music, his ex­ag­ger­ated out­going per­son­ality, and his Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Or­leans, he is a local legend.

Mother-In-Law record pro­voked two an­swer recordsLouise Brown and the Blos­soms each recorded songs ti­tled Son-in-Law, al­though they were dif­ferent songs.

Fi­nally, for those of you who want to hear old-style New Or­leans jazz and rhythm & blues in a modern set­ting, I highly rec­om­mend the HBO se­ries Treme. Set in New Or­leans in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005, it ad­dresses how the lo­cals try to re­build their lives, their homes, and their unique cul­ture. Best bloody use of real music I have ever heard in a tele­vi­sion se­ries!

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (1 week)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 DelShannon Runaway 600

May 20

Del Shannon
Run­away
(1 week)
This record spent two weeks at #1 on April 22-April 29, 1961, for a total of three weeks at the top. Refer to that date for more in­for­ma­tion.

 

Medium 45 1961 ErnieK Doe MotherInLaw 600

May 27

Ernie K-Doe
Mother-In-Law
(1 week)
This record spent two weeks at #1 on May 6–May 13, 1961, for a total of three weeks at the top. Refer to that date for more in­for­ma­tion.

 

Medium 45 1961 RoyOrbison RunningScared PS 600 1

Medium 45 1961 RoyOrbison RunningScared 600

June 3

Roy Or­bison
Run­ning Scared
Mon­u­ment 45-438
(1 week)

The title Run­ning Scared has led count­less lis­teners to re­member this song as bleak (like so many other Or­bison records) when in fact it’s the op­po­site. Here are the en­tire lyrics:

Just run­ning scared, each place we go—
so afraid that he might show.
Yeah run­ning scared, what would I do
if he came back and wanted you?
Just run­ning scared, feeling low.
Run­ning scared, you loved him so.
Just run­ning scared, afraid to lose.
If he came back, which one would you choose?

 

Then all at once, he was standing there—
so sure of him­self, his head in the air.
My heart was breaking, which one would it be?
You turned around and walked away with me!
 

See—in the end, the ter­ri­fied guy got the girl! Since it did have a happy ending, Or­bison usu­ally ended each of his con­cert ap­pear­ances with this song.

John: When you get into one of those “greatest vocal ever recorded” dis­cus­sions (and you do, don’t you?), be sure not to men­tion this right off the bat. Un­less you want to turn it into a very short dis­cus­sion.

Neal: In 1966, the Beach Boys’ pub­li­cist Derek Taylor clev­erly de­scribed Brian Wilson’s arrange­ment and pro­duc­tion of Good Vi­bra­tions as a “pocket sym­phony.” Had Taylor worked for Or­bison, he might have called any of his early sin­gles a “pocket op­eretta.”

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (1 week)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 RickNelson TravelinMan PS 600 1

Medium 45 1961 RickNelson TravelinMan 600

June 1–June 24

Ricky Nelson
Trav­elin’ Man
Im­pe­rial X-5741
(3 weeks)

In the 1950s and ’60s, it was not un­usual to have both sides of a record to re­ceive play on AM radio and con­se­quently, re­quests from cus­tomers for both sides of the record when pur­chasing that record at re­tail shops. In some cases, the de­mand for the two sides could be great enough to make both sides sub­stan­tial hits in­de­pen­dent of one an­other.

Such was the case with Ricky Nel­son’s Trav­elin’ Man / Hello Mary Lou, with both sides reaching the Top 10. If Im­pe­rial Records had is­sued Hello Mary Lou as a sep­a­rate A-side, it might have given Nelson back-to-back chart-toppers.

Lew: On paper, Ricky Nelson was the poster child for priv­i­lege. He grew up on na­tional TV on the white-bread The Ad­ven­tures of Ozzie and Har­riet tele­vi­sion show, and, at 16, when he wanted to im­press his girl­friend, who was an Elvis fan, he ba­si­cally had his fa­ther buy him a hit record, which started his mu­sical ca­reer.

And yet.

Trav­elin’ Man is one of Ricky’s greatest songs: gentle, melodic, yearning. He makes singing seem so easy and natural—like he couldn’t hit a wrong note if he wanted to. In this, he re­minds me of Dean Martin, and if you’ve never seen the duet Nelson and Martin did in the movie Rio Bravo, you should check it out.

He not only had great taste in ma­te­rial, he knew what he wanted mu­si­cally, and hired the young James Burton for his backing band. Music seemed to gen­uinely be in his blood (Ozzie was a big band leader and Har­riet a singer) and de­spite his wealth and priv­i­lege, there was some pain deep in­side him that came out in his best work.

John: Ricky’s greatest gift was sounding like he did every­thing in his own time. Maybe that was a product of the priv­i­lege Lew men­tions. Who the hell else would record Hello Mary Lou and say, “Hey, let’s use that for the B-Side”?

And be right.

And, yeah, his record com­pany might have made the de­ci­sion, but I’d bet Ricky was a big enough star by then that he at least had to be on board with the idea. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Neal: Ricky ranks with Elvis, Pat Boone, and Fats Domino as the male singer with the most sides in the Top 40 in the pre-Beatles era of rock & roll (see June 25 and Oc­tober 8, 1960, en­tries).

Im­pe­rial did not seek im­me­diate RIAA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for an of­fi­cial Gold Record Award for Trav­elin’ Man. This was rec­ti­fied on Au­gust 10, 1977, when it re­ceived an RIAA Gold Record Award for 1,000,000 sales.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 GaryBonds QuarterToThree PS 600 1

Medium 45 1961 GaryBonds QuarterToThree 600 1

July–July 15

Gary U.S. Bonds
Quarter To Three
Legend 1008
(3 weeks)

In a pe­riod of fewer than eigh­teen months in 1961-1962, US Bonds (that’s the hokey name his man­age­ment stuck him with) was one of the hottest rock & roll stars in the country. He placed seven sides in the na­tional Top 40, four of them making it to the Cash Box Top 10.

He looked like a real comer—like the next Elvis or Ricky.

Then he was gone.

Lew: One of the best songs ever written about an­other song. It’s all very in­ces­tuous: Bonds sings, “the swing­in’est song that could ever be was A Night With Daddy G.” That was a song by the Church Street Five, who are backing Bonds on the record. But if you listen to A Night With Daddy G it’s the same song as Quarter to Three minus the vo­cals.

To give Bonds his due, he only added his name to the orig­inal credits for A Night With Daddy G. The Bonds ver­sion got a new life thanks to Bruce Spring­steen, who fre­quently closed his shows with a cover of it in the ’70s.

John: Did I men­tion this was a great year for rock & roll?

Neal: His other Top 10 hits were the ir­re­sistible New Or­leans (#5 in 1960), School Is Out (#2 in 1961), and Dear Lady Twist (#6 in 1962). The latter two were cred­ited to Gary (U.S.) Bonds. As I said, he looked like he coulda been a con­tender.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: Yes
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 BobbyLewis TossinAndTurnin 600

July 22–August 12

Bobby Lewis
Tossin’ And Turnin’
Bel­tone 45-1002
(4 weeks)

Bobby Lewis credits the suc­cess of Tossin’ And Turnin’ to his June 2, 1961, ap­pear­ance on the Amer­ican Band­stand tele­vi­sion show. Many artists in this era be­lieve the same thing: that without Dick Clark’s pop­ular music and dance show, they might not have had the hits they had.

After this chart-topper, Lewis had one other Top 30 hit with One Track Mind later in ’61. Then he was for­gotten by AM radio and record buyers. For most con­ver­sa­tions about one-hit-wonders, he fits the bill.

John: I’m sad­dened to re­alize that, while people no doubt toss and turn more than ever, there is no milkman at the door.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (7 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 Highwaymen Michael 600

Au­gust 19–September 9

The High­waymen
Michael
United Artists UA-258
(4 weeks)

A folk song arranged and per­formed in a very easy-listening style—and suc­cess­fully, as everyone seems to know and like this record. While most of us think of the High­waymen as one-hit-wonders, they placed a rather ragged reading of Cotton Fields back in the Top 20 in early 1962.

John: I think many people have for­gotten how big com­mer­cial folk music was in the era just be­fore Beat­le­mania. Peter, Paul & Mary hit #1 on the album chart with their first three re­leases in 1962-63. This was a bit of a link be­tween the ’50s suc­cess of the Kingston Trio and what was coming right around the corner.

Michael still sounds lovely.

Neal: Speaking of rather ragged read­ings, these High­waymen have nothing to do with the High­waymen who recorded twenty-five years later and sounded a lot like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jen­nings, Kris Kristof­ferson, and Willie Nelson.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 BobbyVee TakeGoodCareOfMyBaby 600

Sep­tember 16–September 30

Bobby Vee
Take Good Care Of My Baby
Lib­erty F-55354
(3 weeks)

Bobby Vee tends to be written off as one of the teen idols From this era who made rock & roll music so safe that even par­ents could enjoy it. But many of his records were fine pop pro­duc­tions, in­cluding Take Good Care Of My Baby.

John: This is a tricky record: Greil Marcus once said Bobby Vee’s records were the epitome of a world where every­thing worked out. I don’t think asking an­other man to take care of the girl you lost as “every­thing working out,” but then I never did fit in.

Neal: Be­tween 1960 and 1963, Vee placed ten sides in the Top 40 and was then for­gotten until 1967 when he al­most topped the charts with Come Back When You Grow Up.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (3 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯
Lew:
Neal: ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 RoyOrbison Crying PS 600 1

Medium 45 1961 RoyOrbison Crying 600

Oc­tober 7

Roy Or­bison
Crying
Mon­u­ment 45-447
(1 week)

“I was all right for a while, I could smile for a while. But I saw you last night; you held my hand so tight as you stopped to say, ‘Hello.’ You wished me well, you couldn’t tell that I’d been crying over you.”

Ac­cording to Bob Dylan, “Or­bison sounded like he was singing from an Olympian moun­taintop and he meant busi­ness. He was now singing his com­po­si­tions in three or four oc­taves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff.”

John: Wait. Did I just say Run­ning Scared was the greatest vocal ever? Let me think on that.

Neal: In De­cember 1972, Del Shannon was recorded live at a per­for­mance in Man­chester, Eng­land. In 1973, a por­tion of the show was is­sued as the LIVE IN ENGLAND album, which con­tained this stun­ning ren­di­tion of Crying.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: No
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 RayCharles HitTheRoadJack 600

Oc­tober 14

Ray Charles
Hit The Road Jack
ABC-Paramount 45-10244
(1 week)

While Georgia On My Mind was the first Ray Charles record to reach #1 on a na­tional pop chart, it did that on Bill­board. On Cash Box, it pooped out at #3. His first side to top both sur­veys was Hit The Road Jack. He would du­pli­cate that achieve­ment in 1962 with I Can’t Stop Loving You and never come close again.

John: Very sub­ver­sive. He sounds like being told to hit the road and don’t come back is the greatest thing any­body ever said to him. Baby, that was rock & roll.

Neal: Be­cause Ray Charles racked up forty Top 10 hits on the R&B charts, there’s a ten­dency to think he was bigger on the pop charts than he ac­tu­ally was. Of his two dozen sin­gles on At­lantic in the ’50s, only one made the na­tional Top 10 (What’d I Say in 1959, which was one of the earth-shattering sin­gles of the decade). During the peak of his suc­cess in the first half of the ’60s, only nine of his ABC-Paramount sides reached the Top 10.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes
• Grammy Award: Best Rhythm & Blues Recording 1961

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 Dion RunaroundSue PS 600 1

Medium 45 1961 Dion RunaroundSue 600

Oc­tober 21–October 28

Dion
Runaround Sue
Laurie 3110
(2 weeks)

Be­tween 1958 and 1960, Dion & the Bel­monts had seven sides enter the na­tional Top 40, then they parted ways am­i­cably. The Bel­monts only reached the Top 40 two more times but were al­ready oldies but goodies by the time of the British In­va­sion.

Dion went on to be a bigger solo star than he had been a star with the Bel­monts, reaching the Top 10 eight times be­fore fiz­zling out in 1963. The fiz­zling out was often at­trib­uted to the British In­va­sion but Dion’s on­going ad­dic­tion to heroin was the more likely cause.

John: Why do I get the feeling that the guy in this song was con­stantly being hit up for Sue’s number?

Neal: In 1969, Dion made a slight come­back with the sur­prise hit Abraham, Martin And John, a lovely record ad­dressing Lin­coln, King, and Kennedy. By the end of the ’70s, he was an ex-junkie, born-again, Evan­gel­ical Chris­tian recording artist.

In 1989, he re­leased the very sec­ular YO FRANKIE, one of the best come­back al­bums by a “ma­ture” artist ever re­leased.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (2 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: No
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Yes

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 JimmyDean BigBadJohn PS 600

Medium 45 1961 JimmyDean BigBadJohn 600

No­vember 4–December 2

Jimmy Dean
Big Bad John
Co­lumbia 4-42175
(5 weeks)

Jimmy Dean’s lik­able Big Bad John was a country & western nov­elty record that was a huge hit on the pop charts for rea­sons that would prob­ably es­cape most 21st-century lis­teners. It tells the tall tale of a quiet miner who hero­ically (and Bun­yan­i­cally) res­cued his fellow workers from a cave-in but with a cost: “At the bottom of this mine lies one hell of a man—Big John.”

John: Lew and Neal have both talked about songs being a window in time. In the spring of 1973, I was the tallest kid on my Little League All-Star team. For about three weeks, we thought we were going to Williamsport and I was Big John. Then we ac­tu­ally had to play a game against an­other team. After that, I went back to being called John Boy.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (5 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (De­cember 14, 1961)
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No
• Grammy Award: Best Country & Western Recording 1961

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯

 

Medium 45 1961 Tokens LionSleepsTonght 600

De­cember 9–December 30

The To­kens
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
RCA Victor 47-7954
(4 weeks)

While many people think of the To­kens as a one-hit-wonder due to their only knowing their one #1 record, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the group had a Top 20 hit ear­lier in ’61 with Tonight I Fell In Love. They re­turned to the Top 40 in 1966 with I Hear Trum­pets Blow and again in ’67 with Por­trait Of My Love. And that was it, but they weren’t a one-hit-wonder!

Lew: What an amazing his­tory this song has. This has to be one of the origin points for world music, starting with the 78 rpm Mbube by Solomon Lin­da’s Orig­inal Evening Birds from 1939, which holds all the seeds of the later ver­sions. Then there was the #6 ver­sion by the leftie he­roes the Weavers in 1952, Wimoweh, which some might find un­bear­ably kitschy.

I dig it.

Every­body from Jimmy Dorsey to Yma Sumac to the Kingston Trio cov­ered it, in­cluding this in­cred­ibly cute ver­sion by the squeaky clean Spring­fields (yes, that’s Dusty in the middle).

Much as I love the orig­inal, how­ever, it’s the To­kens’ ver­sion that I first heard, and that still sends me hurtling back through the years to the jukebox in the Toast­master Café in Globe, Ari­zona, sixth grade. Now that is some singing, and a ver­i­table mine­field of melody—you can’t take a step without a great hook blowing up in your face.

John: This one re­port­edly in­spired Ca­role King to give the greatest record re­view ever. “That’s a motherf*cker.” Having been raised far from Brooklyn, it’s not ex­actly how I would have put it … but I know what she meant.

• Bill­board Hot 100 #1: Yes (3 weeks)
• Million-seller: Yes
• RIAA Gold Record: Yes (Jan­uary 9, 1962)
• Ac­cu­mu­lated sales: Un­known
• 500 Songs That Shaped Rock: No
• Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: No

But do you like it?
John: ✯ ✯ ✯
Lew: ✯ ✯ ✯
Neal: ✯ ✯ ✯

Jimmy Dean’s ‘Big Bad John ’ was the biggest hit of 1960 on the Cash Box Top 100. Find the other big hits of the year here! Click To Tweet

Medium photo 1961 RayCharles piano France 1000

FEATURED ARTIST: In 1961, Ray Charles reached #1 on a na­tional pop chart for the first time with Georgia On My Mind on the Bill­board Hot 100, but it did not du­pli­cate that feat on the Cash Box Top 100. Hit The Road Jack made it to the top on both sur­veys. In the summer of that year, Charles did his first Eu­ro­pean show when he ap­peared at the An­tibes Jazz Fes­tival. Here he is pho­tographed in Mi­lano ac­com­pa­nied by a seven-piece en­semble and his backing vo­cal­ists the Raeletts (un­seen in the photo).

Year-end observations

Twenty records reached #1 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart in 1961. Here is the break­down of those records based on how many weeks they spent at the top of the chart:

8 weeks: 0
7 weeks: 0
6 weeks: 0
5 weeks: 1
4 weeks: 4
3 weeks: 6
2 weeks: 4
1 week:   5

Lew: How did a year that started with Bert Kaempfert, Fer­rante & Te­icher, and Lau­rence Welk end up with Ray Charles and Dion and the To­kens? There’s some­thing’s hap­pening here, but what it is ain’t ex­actly clear. JFK was the youngest pres­i­dent the US had ever elected. New fron­tiers were every­where, from outer space to the inner light. The most af­fluent gen­er­a­tion in his­tory was be­gin­ning to hit pu­berty, and Madison Av­enue wanted its cash. 

Gold Record Awards

Of the twenty records that reached #1, Joseph Mur­rells lists twenty of them as million-sellers. Only two com­pa­nies sought RIAA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, Co­lumbia for Jimmy Dean’s Big Bad John and RCA Victor for the To­kens’ The Lion Sleeps Tonight. In­ter­est­ingly, RCA was not sub­mit­ting Elvis Presley’s million-sellers for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion at this time.

RIAA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion rate: 1%

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great read neal, here’s a guy who you wouldn’t think in a mil­lion years he would go “boogity boogity shoop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb-Z26JrVPA&list=RDxb-Z26JrVPA&start_radio=1&t=109