Tuesday, September 6, 2016
SHG: The Coasters: "Charlie Brown"
The Coasters: “Charlie Brown”
Entered the chart on: 2/9/1959
Peaked on: 3/9/1959
Weeks at #2: 3 weeks
Song at #1: “Venus” by Frankie Avalon
Talk about “the day the music died.” Check out what’s in the #1 spot. It didn’t take long for the fake-rock opportunists to move in!
But never mind about that. We’re here to discuss what hit #2, which if nothing else, saves me the agony of reviewing the execrable Frankie Avalon. And it’s easy to dismiss the Coasters as a novelty act, the Harlem Globetrotters of doo-wop, if you will. But that would be selling them short on being a first-rate vocal group with great songwriting (courtesy of the inimitable Leiber/Stoller, who already gave us Elvis’ spectacular early ballad “Love Me” on this feature). I loved this tune as a kid, let’s see if it holds up...
When I was a kid, I thought this was about the Charlie Brown, i.e.: Charles Schulz’s oft-harangued character. It would explain the solo refrain for bass singer “Dub” Jones: “Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?” It seems not to be the case, though. This Charlie Brown shares the name of the comic strip character, but has a completely different personality. This Charlie Brown is a rebellious teen, an irreverent class clown who’s frequently in trouble for being such a merry prankster.
No wonder this song was such a big hit. Not only is the subject matter unique and attention-grabbing, but so is the vocal arrangement, with not only Jones’ repeated solo line, but also the brief appearance by David Seville’s Chipmunks* on background vocals. The sax hook is also completely infectious. When listening to this for this review, I was thinking, “Oh please, give this guy a solo!” Fortunately, my wish was granted. Never doubt Leiber/Stoller.
If all novelty songs were this good, maybe I wouldn’t be so down on them in general.
*I know David Seville had nothing to do with this recording, they were just using the same trick of monkeying with the tape-speed. I’m guessing Leiber/Stoller heard “Witch Doctor” on the radio and decided to use the same gimmick, albeit mercifully not for the length of a record.