the #1 hit records on the pop charts 1961

Estimated reading time is 32 minutes.

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.

I have removed the links between song titles and their corresponding YouTube pages that were originally included in this article as many of the pages have been deleted.

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” which 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 matinée 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.

 


 

1961

 

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 that 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, search for the song, and you should find 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 singers 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 for 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 kind of 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’ 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 could have been issued as a single in 1970.

John: The 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 records”: both Louise 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 could have 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: ✯ ✯ ✯

 

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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