Wednesday, August 31, 2016

SHG: The Crests: "Sixteen Candles"

The Crests: “Sixteen Candles”
Entered the chart on: 12/22/1958
Peaked on: 2/9/1959
Weeks at #2: 2
Song at #1: “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price

More diner music. I can’t help but have images of waitresses in old-fashioned car-hop outfits bearing platters of patty melts and chocolate malts while this plays on an old Wurlitzer jukebox. Well, let’s refresh our collective memories of this evergreen:

I forgot about the “Happy birthday, baby” intro. And how did I never know that this was an interracial group? And that their one female member was the sister of Luther Vandross? All I knew was that their powerhouse lead tenor was one Johnny Maestro (né Mastrangelo).

Yes, it’s pretty obvious these folks had been listening to lots of the Platters. Maestro is no Tony Williams clone, he puts his own stamp on this recording with his impassioned delivery. Not sure who was the arranger for this session, but he sure knew his onions. Like the Connie Francis tune I covered a couple of reviews ago, it has a very understated arrangement, with everything as support to Maestro’s spectacular lead. The highlight of the backing vocals is bass singer J. T. Carter, who was the one who initially formed the group.

In spite of this staggering success, they weren’t able to follow it up effectively. They managed a couple of top 20 follow-up entries (if you know any other Crests song, “Step by Step” is probably it) but that was about it. Maestro later resurfaced as the lead singer of the Brooklyn Bridge, who had a top 10 hit in 1969 with “Worst That Could Happen.” Based on this, they deserved a rather better legacy.

Much, much better than I had remembered. Superbly done!

Rating: 5

SHG: Bill Parsons: "The All-American Boy"

Bill Parsons: “The All-American Boy”
Entered the chart on: 12/28/1958
Peaked on: 2/2/1959
Weeks at #2: 1
Song at #1: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters

When is a song not a song by who you think it is? When the record company screws up. Infamously, this song is actually by Bobby Bare, but Fraternity Records screwed up and listed Parsons as the singer. So not only were they unable to give Cathy Carr a follow-up hit, they couldn’t even credit their performers correctly! Doesn’t inspire confidence in their competence, does it?

Bleah...I really dislike spoken-word records. Not a big fan of novelty songs, either. It’s a spoof of Elvis, apparently, but it could be about any guy who wanted to be a rock star and wound up getting drafted. You know, because there were so many of those in 1959. Topical humor, who needs it? That’s Bobby Bare singing doing the vocal, but Parsons did in fact write and arrange this. It’s a fine rock & roll song from an instrumental standpoint, but the vocal just makes me cringe.

Sorry, I don’t think this has aged very well. I think there’s a reason I’ve never heard this before now, and I really don’t think I need to explain why.

Rating: 1

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

SHG: Connie Francis: "My Happiness"

Connie Francis “My Happiness” Entered the chart on: 12/15/1958 Peaked on: 1/19/1959 Weeks at #2: 2 weeks Song at #1: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters

Ah yes, Connie Francis. Until the 1990s, she was the most successful female soloist of the rock era. Bigger than Diana Ross. Bigger than Barbara Streisand. Bigger than Donna Summer. Bigger than Madonna.

By 1979, she was represented in the Rolling Stone Record Guide by a dismissive two-sentence review for a single greatest-hits package which received a rating of a bullet (zero stars). What happened for her to suddenly deserve such scorn?

Well, I suppose one thing might be Rolling Stones’ rock & roll attitude. Anything that smacked of artificiality, commerciality or bandwagon-jumping had them turning up their noses. The key to Connie Francis’ smash success was only partly due to her phenomenal, sorrow-laden singing voice.

Here lies the difference between her and the likes of Cathy Carr. While Cathy was struggling at Fraternity and a succession of other small, regional labels without the budget for A&R, Connie was being aggressively marketed to any potential artist willing to listen at MGM, who threw a ton of money at their investment.

Part of the result of this was that Connie was incredibly overworked. All her 50s and 60s hits were produced at mammoth days-long recording sessions. So the sorrow in her voice was probably not an act. I think it may have partly been fatigue*, which is why she sounded sad even on songs that didn’t call for it (Andrea Martin spoofed this on the fake record ad for 20 Depressing Hits by Connie Franklin [sic]). And MGM’s marketing towards all ages and ethnicities bordered on the crass (a sampling of Connie’s discography: Christmas With Connie, Rock ‘n’ Roll Million Sellers, Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites, Country Music Connie Style, Sings “Never On Sunday” and Other Title Songs From Motion Pictures, etc.).

While it’s true that commercial success is not a guarantee of artistic quality, especially considering the incredible volume of material that was churned out in such a short space of time, it’s obvious Connie could sing. She didn’t always get the grade A material her voice deserved, but then, that’s true of the 90s female soloists that supplanted her (believe me, we’ll get to them in time).

Enough stalling, let’s review this thing:

Good call on orchestrator David Rose (later of “The Stripper” fame) for knowing his bread-and-butter, giving Connie an a’cappella intro for her to sing. They’re also taking a a tip from Les Paul & Mary Ford, stunningly double-tracking her voice.

I’m really struck how wonderfully this is arranged. It builds to a crescendo, plinking piano and subtle saxophone rising out of the a’cappella intro, with the strings coming in very gradually and the choir only entering during the final verse. And none of it competes with Connie’s voice. Rose really knew his stuff!

What I was talking about earlier about Connie taking a happy song and making it sad kind of applies here, but there’s more to it than that. Unlike a lot of her later material, I think this song was selected specifically because it spotlighted her voice, and her personality, very well. The title is ironic, the narrator is actually sad because her lover is gone, and wants “[her] happiness” to return. Connie is a natural for this kind of tune.

Really, much, much better than I was expecting.

Rating: 4

*it’s since come out of the woodwork that Connie was suffering from bipolar disorder, which further explains this tendency, and suddenly turns that SCTV skit into a bit of a Funny Aneurysm Moment.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

SHG: Everly Bros.: "Problems"

The Everly Bros.: “Problems”
Entered the chart on: 11/24/58
Peaked on: 12/15/58
Weeks at #2: 1
Song at #1: “To Know Him Is to Love Him” by the Teddy Bears

October 27th, 1958.

That is the magical date. The date that Billboard Magazine consolidated all their various charts into the Hot 100. The magical date where my work on this feature suddenly becomes less of a confounding boondoggle. If I were to do another similar feature like this, I think I’d start it from that date instead of January 1st, 1955.

Anyway, another day, another Everly Brothers tune. “Bye Bye Love” is, of course, a classic, but this one’s not ringing a bell for me for whatever reason. Let’s investigate this one together.

God, how I love the acoustic guitar strumming on this. Like a lot of Everly Brothers tunes, there’s a real bluegrass feel to this. You can feel the link from old-timey hillbilly music to this in everything they do. At least I can. There’s not really so much separating old folk tunes like “The Cumberland Gap” to this.

The electric lead is another nice touch. Lyrically, this isn’t your typical stuff. I mean, they put it in teenager terms by making references to high school, but there aren’t many songs from that era that are basically saying, “life is confusing and I don’t know which way to turn.” Not only that, there doesn’t seem to be any clear-cut solution to the protagonist’s titular problems.

Rather existentialist for 50s rock & roll.

Rating: 5

SHG: Bobby Day: "Rock-in Robin"

Bobby Day: “Rock-in Robin”
Entered the chart on: 8/4/1958
Peaked on: 10/13/1958
Weeks at #2: 2 weeks
Song at #1: “It’s All in the Game” by Tommy Edwards

It’s funny how many of these songs are evoking strong memories of the last time I went to Mel’s Diner, either the one on Geary or the one on Lombard. Both are very 50s themed, with tons of these tunes on the jukeboxes, and stills from American Graffiti plastered all over the walls. I suppose I’m forever meant to mentally associate Ron Howard and Cindy Williams with this era, in spite of the fact that they were actually children and not teenagers when these songs were popular.

And yes, Joel Whitburn’s tome reliably informs me that this is the correct spelling of this song’s title. I’m looking at the label of the original 45 RPM Class label single over at rateyourmusic, and this confirms it.

Damn, this song is fun! Yes, this is one of those very silly songs like “Tweedlee Dee,” or “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” for that matter, that is elevated by its performer. I’m rather shocked to learn that Bobby Day is a one-hit wonder, as based on this, he really should have had a hotter career as the man really knows how to sell a song!

Again, like “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” the backing vocalists do a lot to help support the lead performer. I’m not going to pretend a song about various species of bird having a rock & roll party is somehow going to change your life, but for three minutes, it’ll make you tap your foot and put a smile on your face.

Plus, how many other rock & roll numbers can you name that feature a piccolo solo?

Rating: 4

SHG: Elvis Presley: "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck"

Elvis Presley: “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”
Entered the chart on: 4/21/58
Peaked on: 4/28/58
Weeks at #2: 1 week
Song at #1: “Twilight Time” by the Platters

Step One in the taming of the Elvis: have him sing a song featuring the lyric, “I’m yours by heck.”

This song confused me as a kid. How small would a woman’s neck have to be to have a man’s ring fit around it. I didn’t know they meant for her to wear it from a chain around her neck. I imagine younger listeners would be even more confused, for if the tradition of wearing someone’s ring around your neck was passé even by my time...

Actually, this is Step 1½ in the taming of the Elvis. Step One was having him sing a song called “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear*,” which this song is a veritable carbon-copy of. Right, this song isn’t anything tremendous, there’s even the “They tell us we’re too young, blah blah blah” bit in the bridge.

But here’s the thing. The bridge is what makes this song! Elvis is the main good thing about this song, and it’s during that bridge where he really cuts loose. If you had a lesser performer, say a Tommy Sands, doing this song, it would be totally worthless. Elvis elevates the material with his energy and charisma.

Speaking of Tommy Sands, might I add that the Jordanaires are featured to much better effect here than on “Teen-Age Crush”? Their excited “doo-doot-doo” backing vocals propel the song to new heights, so it’s not only Elvis himself making the most of mediocre material. For whatever reason, this song remains quite enjoyable.

Rating: 4

*me being me, I’d prefer Teddy Roosevelt, or better yet “Pecos Bill” Shafter, to be my Teddy Bear.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

SHG: The Chordettes: "Lollipop"

The Chordettes: “Lollipop”
Entered the chart on: 3/10/58
Peaked on: 3/31/58
Weeks at #2: 2 weeks
Songs at #1: “Tequila” by the Champs and “Catch a Falling Star” by Perry Como

Does it count as “whitewashing” if only half of the original artists were black?

Ronald and Ruby, a duo of a black man and a white woman, were the original performers of “Lollipop.” Ruby was actually the song’s co-writer, Beverly Ross, who at the urging of her mother didn’t use her real name for the recording. They also didn’t do any promotion on TV for the song, which is why it stalled at #20, while the Chordettes’ rendition sailed to #2.

Anyway, if you’d told me Ronald and Ruby were two women, I’d be hard-pressed to negate that claim, as Ronald has a pretty high voice on the original recording. Out of sheer curiosity, I also checked out the cover by the English family group the Mudlarks, and it is an odd duck indeed*, being rather gender-confused, as the two Mudlark brothers give the “I call him” line to their sister to deliver solo.

As for the Chordettes, could there be a more quintessentially “fifties” female vocal group? Possibly the McGuire Sisters, but “Mister Sandman” is used to evoke the era of poodle skirts and malt shops way, way more often with “Sincerely,” and they weren’t whitewashing an R&B act’s hit, so I’m sticking with the Chordettes.

Well, it’s obvious why this version was the big hit. They have the “pop” effect after the refrain! And the wordless guest spot by the nameless bass singer. I tend to be more forgiving of this squeaky-clean vocal harmony pop when delivered by female groups. Does that make me sexist? Reverse sexist? Anyway, I’m enjoying this. Maybe because I’m picturing Jasper from The Simpsons delivering it while wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit and having his teeth fall out when he tries to do the “pop.”

The song is, of course, extremely inane, but I forgive it because it’s fun. I can forgive inanity if it’s fun and not annoying. And if there was effort put into it. It’s obvious that effort was put into every aspect of this, from the songwriting on down to the vocal arrangement and the harmonies, etc. And it shows.

Rating: 4

*No idea if he was actually involved, but Joe Meek is very much in evidence on the Mudlarks’ version, at least at the start of the recording, where it sounds like a spaceship landing!

SHG: Chuck Berry: "Sweet Little Sixteen"

Chuck Berry: “Sweet Little Sixteen”
Entered the chart on: 2/24/58
Peaked on: 3/17/1958
Weeks at #2: 3 weeks
Song at #1: “Tequila” by the Champs

I’m just going to bask in the Golden Age of Rock & Roll while it still lasts. Because, blessed/cursed with the gift of foresight, I know what happens in 1959.

Chuck Berry, for me, is rock & roll. When I think the early days of rock, I think of Chuck strumming his guitar and doing his duck-walk. He is the quintessence of the early rock & roll sound. And this was his biggest hit (Yes, I know, fourteen years later, he went all the way to #1 with a crummy live recording of a hideous novelty number that’s little more than a litany of crude penis jokes. Leave me my illusions.).

My God, this song has been imitated so many times, and almost never has anyone come close to touching the original. The song isn’t super-complex, which means it was pretty easy to imitate. Berry gets the easy part on guitar, but since he has to accompany himself while singing I’ll let it slide. The piano player gets the juicy part. I’m not sure who played piano on this, but man, that cat is wild. For a rocker, Berry has a lighter, thinner voice than I remember, but it works for some reason. Probably as it reminds me of later vocalists that followed in his wake that I also like (Prince, for example).

This might be the first song that seeks airplay by name-dropping US locales (and he even gets in a mention of American Bandstand in there). The song is the tale of a teenaged girl who’s obsessed with rock & roll and wants to go to a show. Actually, it might be the most complex and intricate lyric to a rock song I’ve covered thus far, since it tells a story with a beginning, middle and end (by the end, our nameless female protagonist has to sleep off her partying weekend lifestyle and get back to the dull grind of high school). Maybe not as poetic a story as “Blueberry Hill,” but I was nonetheless entertained and compelled by it.

In short, it’s as good as you remember it being, and is still worth a listen after all these years.

Rating: 5

SHG: The Four Preps: "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)"

The Four Preps: “26 Miles (Santa Catalina)”
Entered the chart on: 1/20/1958
Peaked on: 3/10/1958
Weeks at #2: 3 weeks
Songs at #1: “Get a Job” by the Silhouettes and “Tequila” by the Champs

That name isn’t a joke. Apparently, these guys formed a singing group at prep school. So...more squeaky clean white boys singing harmony. It seems I have heard this song before, but I’m not conjuring up any memory of the actual melody. I do know that it’s about taking the ferry to Santa Catalina, as the parenthetical subtitle helpfully informs us. On the other hand, David Sommerville (a.k.a. David Troy) of the Diamonds was later a member. And this was a self-penned number by two of the group members. So there’s two things in its favor right off the bat. I promised to be open-minded during this series...

Anyone else thinking The Addams Family when hearing that guitar intro? The whistling also gives this a bit of a mysterious air to it. Vocally, I’m having a hard time from separating this from other Wonder bread vocal harmony groups like the Four Lads and the Crew-Cuts. The song’s protagonist claims he’s looking for romance in Santa Catalina, but it’s not clear if he means that his sweetie lives there, or if he just plans on hitting on beach bunnies until one consents to make out with him. I’m guessing the latter, considering the line about “island pearls.”

Eh...I’m kind of running out of things to say about this. It’s OK for what it is, I guess, but the exotic arrangement kind of strikes me as more memorable than the song itself. Cute, but insubstantial.

Rating: 2

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SHG: Ricky Nelson: "Stood Up"

Ricky Nelson: “Stood Up”
Entered the chart on: 12/30/1957
Peaked on: 1/13/1958
Weeks at #2: 3 weeks
Song at #1: “At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors

Now, I was quick to come to Ricky’s defense, at least a little, during my last review but...come on! “Stood Up”? Ricky Nelson, the most desirable dream date for teenage girls in the late 50s? I believe that like I believe the Crew Cuts were the original artists singing “Sh-Boom.”

I’m sure I’m missing some context here. I never watched Ozzie and Harriet, and I’m sure this song was used, Partridge Family-style, to have Ricky teach a lesson to some high-school heartbreaker or something. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh here. Let’s examine the case of this song.

OK, already I like this better than “A Teenager’s Romance.” It’s more of that old-time rock & roll with some great electric guitar and an infectious beat. That said, after “Great Balls of Fire,” Ricky can’t help but come across as a bit...sedate? I kind of want Jerry Lee Lewis to come up behind him with a pitchfork to put a little more fire into his performance.

So...good, but not great. I like this, but it doesn’t excite me.

And isn’t that what good rock and roll is supposed to do?

Rating: 3

SHG: Frank Sinatra: "All the Way"

Frank Sinatra: “All the Way”
Entered the chart on: 10/28/1957
Peaked on: 1/6/1958
Weeks at #2: 1 week
Song at #1: “At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors

Frank Sinatra is an artist that is hard to be impartial about.

I know some who absolutely hate him (Hello, Al!). I know others who think he is an utterly brilliant song stylist. Me? I think a lot of the former camp are letting perceptions of Frank Sinatra the person get in the way of Frank Sinatra the artist. Sort of how people hate Richard Wagner because he’s such a horrible person, rather than because he makes bad music (which he didn’t).

To be fair, by the time the 60s rolled round, Sinatra had rather become a grotesque caricature of himself, a cantankerous, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking lout who’d rather spend time carousing with his drinking buddies, romancing hot young starlets and pushing his considerably less-talented offspring into the spotlight than polishing his vocal instrument. His lackadasical performance on the fluke 1966 #1 smash “Strangers in the Night” was sadly indicative of his approach to singing at the time (the half-assed scat singing quickly becoming a point of parody for Sinatra impressionists).

That said, this is from the reliable Cahn/Van Heusen songwriting team, so one gets the feeling that, even though I can’t conjure up the melody from memory, Frank probably cared about this a little more than “Strangers” (which he considered “a piece of shit,” and it shows in his “I don’t give a crap about this” performance).

OK, this one’s coming back to me now. From the movie The Joker Is Wild, which I’m sure I’ve never seen, but I have heard this before.

Frank isn’t unseating Nat “King” Cole as my favorite pre-rock balladeer, but damn, his performance on this could come close to convincing me. This is another brilliant Nelson Riddle orchestration, swathed in pillowy strings. His voice is smooth and supple as Nat’s, and glides gorgeously over the notes.

This is really a beautiful song. I get the feeling that Frank was to singing what Bette Davis was to acting, i.e.: he gave the song the performance he thought it deserved.

It’s pretty obvious he thought very highly of this one.

Rating: 4

Mike Makes Cold Brew Coffee

A.k.a.: “low tide at the beach”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

SHG: Jerry Lee Lewis: "Great Balls of Fire"

Jerry Lee Lewis: “Great Balls of Fire”
Entered the chart on: 12/2/1957
Peaked on: 1/6/1957
Weeks at #2: 4
Song at #1: “At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors

We were in full-on Golden Age of Rock & Roll here. Just look at that Top 2! Controversial, crazy rockabilly singer/pianist Jerry Lee Lewis should need no introduction, but in case you do...

Yes, this perhaps misses a bit without the visual of Jerry standing behind the piano and banging on the keys. Think a white, hillbilly version of Little Richard and you’re close to Jerry’s appeal.

I think this might be the first song I’ve covered that is unequivocally about sex. Sure, “Blueberry Hill” is a wistful reminiscence of a past romance that was clearly consummated, but it wasn’t just about sex. Listening to Jerry’s urgent, wailing, trembling delivery makes the lyrical content clear as Canadian water. This song is about a woman that makes him horny.

We’re looking at it through a veil of nostalgia now, but compare this to the Billy Vaughn, Joni James and Four Lads tunes we’ve covered, and think of how appalled the old guard must have been to have this crazy hillbilly screaming lyrics with obvious sexual undertones. And to have their kids go crazy for it, and shove it up to the top of the charts.

They must have been delighted to tear him down after even his fan base turned on him when it was discovered he had married his underaged cousin. He’d reinvent himself as a country singer a decade later, but the damage had been done.

Rating: 5

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

SHG: Bill Justis: "Raunchy"

Bill Justis: “Raunchy”
Entered the chart on: 11/18/1957
Peaked on: 12/16/1957
Weeks at #2: 1 week
Song at #1: “April Love” by Pat Boone

Man, there sure were a lot more instrumentals on the charts back in the 50s. I have to wonder what changed between now and then to wipe the instrumental almost completely off the face of the pop music charts. My hypothesis is that it’s another victim of the change to music being a visual medium in the wake of MTV and the rise of music video. Unless you have a group of sexy bikini babes playing, nobody’s interested in instrumental music these days. And that’s a shame.

Here we have what I assume is another rockabilly number, considering sax player Bill Justis was the musical director for Sun Records. Also featuring Sid Manker on guitar, so Joel Whitburn informs me. I expect this to actually be raunchy, so don’t let me down guys:

Some of that rubber-band-y guitar I associate with Duane Eddy on this. I get the feeling he probably listened to this. The sax seems to be an alto, as it’s a really trebly and high-pitched melody line. Sid Manker’s guitar is the highlight of this for me, he has a nice chord-heavy guitar solo in the middle. I wonder if Robert Fripp was inspired by this for his guitar solo on King Crimson’s “A Sailor’s Tale.”

It’s all right. I’m not in love with this tune, it’s a tad repetitive, but the excellent guitar work keeps it chugging along, and there’s an unexpected piano solo about two-thirds of the way through that’s rather nice.

Oh, and I see that Billy Vaughn covered this. [covers mouth and snorts with derisive laughter]

Rating: 3

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

SHG: Jimmy Dorsey: "So Rare"

Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra & Chorus: “So Rare”
Entered the chart on: 4/13/1957
Peaked on: 6/24/1957
Weeks at #2: 4 weeks
Songs at #1: “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone and “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley

Checking out the pop charts of the late fifties can be a bit like catching falling stars. On the one hand we have artists like Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers, whose stars were on the rise. On the other hand, we have the likes of Joni James, Doris Day and Johnnie Ray, who were making inroads to the Top 40 for the last time, and by the turn of the decade wouldn’t trouble the pop charts again.

Here we have Jimmy Dorsey, who, along with his brother Tommy, was one of the architects of the big band sound of the 30s and 40s. And this would be his only hit in the rock & roll era. I thought, looking at that title, that this wasn’t a new song and indeed, it wasn’t: it had already been a big hit for Guy Lombardo twenty years before. It was only new to Jimmy, who was then slumming it at Cincinnati-based Fraternity Records, home to SHG alum Cathy Carr. Let’s see how he fares with it:

I’m really torn by this one. On the one hand, good God! Jimmy’s saxophone just kills it! I mean, man, that man could blow! And I mean that in the nicest way possible! Really, the horn charts overall, not just his sax lead, just absolutely slay throughout this whole thing. The whole instrumental track is arranged to perfection on this tune.

And that’s the problem with this recording. The “Orchestra & Chorus” in the credits. I get that it was the style at the time, and one had to compete with the Les Baxters and Billy Vaughns of the world word, the Disney-soundtrack mixed-voice choir on this come close to murdering the song. Seriously, it’s that sucky choir that’s the only thing preventing me from awarding this the full five stars.

Couldn’t we have a remix that eliminates the choir entirely? Please? Because it’s the only thing that’s keeping me from 100% enjoyment of this song.

Rating: 4

SHG: The Everly Bros.: "Bye Bye Love"

Everly Bros.: “Bye Bye Love”
Entered the chart on: 5/27/1957
Peaked on: 6/17/1957
Weeks at #2: 4 weeks
Songs at #1: “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone and “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley

It’s like someone cloned Buddy Holly, corrected his eyesight, and had him sing close-formation harmonies with himself.

Well, can’t you imagine that being the selling point of these guys? They have a bit of Holly’s hiccuping vocal style and, hailing as they did from Tennessee, a bit of that Southern twang to their vocals.

This is one of those songs that’s so familiar to anyone and everyone it’s a little hard to imagine the impact this had to have had when it first appeared on the scene. I mean, we hear, “There goes my baby, with someone new” and our minds shoot back to the last place we heard it, most likely as background music at some tcotschke-filled diner-type restaurant with retro styling. I think it deserves a little more credit. It’s more of that rockabilly sound, the kind we’ve already heard Carl Perkins and Elvis do, but here given a bit of an Appalachian folkie twist, and all wrapped up in the Everly’s gorgeous harmony vocals.

The arrangement follows the KISS principle pretty solidly; the Everlys’ guitars are front and center, everything else is support for them. Ditto their vocals, which are obviously the centerpiece.

Well, there’s not really a lot more to say about this. We’re in the center of “classic rock & roll” era, so there’s quite a lot of these songs to choose from right now, and this made me smile when listening to it.

Sometimes, you can’t ask for any more than that.

Rating: 5

SHG: Ricky Nelson: "A Teenager's Romance"

Ricky Nelson: “A Teenager’s Romance”
Entered the chart on: 5/27/1957
Peaked on: 6/10/1957
Weeks at #2: 1 week
Song at #1: “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone

Oh dear, we’re back to the teenage exploitation records, aren’t we? Well, sort of. Ricky Nelson tried so hard for rock & roll credibility but it really eluded him until the 70s and his country-rock years with the Stone Canyon Band. Back in the 50s? Yes, he was fighting an uphill battle. In the popular consciousness, he was a radio/TV star using his parents’ Hollywood clout to kick-start a music career. Imperial Records surely just saw him as a cute, non-threatening fresh face that appealed to young girls. He could cover Fats Domino tunes until he was blue in the face, yet it would be stuff like this that the average Joe would wind up mentally associating him with for years.

OK, lyrically this is the same song as “Teen Age Crush.” The exact same. “They tell us we’re too young to know what true love is, blah blah blah.” That said, this is better on every level. I really like the male backing vocals that form the backbone of this tune, and are way up-front right at the start. Oh, that bass singer! I think I’m in love! The sax solo is another nice touch here.

And say what you will about Ricky, he did have a good singing voice. The melody doesn’t overly tax him, and you get the feeling he’d rather be singing “I’m Walkin’” (the flip side of this very single) but his voice is not without expression and pitch control. He does service to the song and proves he’s not just another pretty face.

That said, you can arrange the song as nicely as you please and it won’t cover up the fact that it’s rather lacking in substance. The lyrics, as I’ve already implied, are beyond vapid, and the song itself isn’t anything vastly special, either. I get the feeling that this is fairly typical of Ricky’s less-remembered hits these days: competently-made fluff.

I’d still rather listen to this than Pat Boone any day of the week.

Rating: 2