I used to write posts about music, from Top 40, to country to soul. I spent years in the radio industry so I enjoyed researching and writing these pieces. It was like re-living history. Due to personal commitments, and an increasing workload, I backed-off on that for about a year.
Despite still being very busy at work, I need a distraction, so I have the hankering to write a few similar posts once again. These posts will appear about once a week, maybe more or less, and they will be in the context of "on this day in history". The posts will highlight a top hit single or album and reference it back to a single day or week in history. The information, photos and video, will provide a nostalgic look back in time.
Here is #1 in the series
On June 19, 1961 (fifty years ago today) one of the top hit makers of the late 1950's and the early 1960's scored yet another #1 hit. I will tell you more about that man in a moment, but let us first set the stage for this event.
If you were alive in that era, you will remember how it was back then: Some prognosticators thought that radio was doomed to die. Television had recently emerged and the popular radio shows, drama, comedy, music and national stars were moving over to TV.
In the meantime, the transistor, that new fangled device that made it possible to make a smaller radio, had burst on the scene. Teens now had radios in their rooms. And many of the kids had smaller battery-powered portable radios that had an ear piece. The captivated teen, in the 1960's, could swoon and sway to the music in private with the tinny little earphone that fit in one ear -- these earpieces looked like earpieces for hearing aids.
The rescue of radio, as a medium, was in the making: In every community across America, large and small, stations were turning to local information and personality disc jockeys who would live in, and connect with, their communities and play the songs that people wanted to hear. AM radio was king. Top 40 was on it's way. Many of these stations had identified a new market -- teens and young adults. This niche audience of kids from the baby boom years, and the new approach championed by smart radio station managers, was helping make up for radio's decline in listeners and revenues due to the popularity of television.
In most regions of the country, there was one dominant station that was a trend setter. Where I live, that pivotal station was KJR Seattle -- AM channel 95. Their signal blasted into Bellingham and most of the region. Below is a KJR hit music survey, 1961, distributed in record stores and at retailers. That face at the bottom of the page is Pat O' Day. He is one of the important people in the history of promoting rock music, not just in this state but nationally. He rubbed elbows with and, as a concert promoter, worked with Elvis, the Beatles, Hendrix and others. (Pat is a radio legend and he is, now, a real estate broker on San Juan Island)
The AM radio stations, depending on their programing, appealed to various audiences -- from adults to teens. Radio stations could, and did, make the hits. Once a song was a hit, vinyl records would be purchased in mass by the public -- but mainly by the teens so that was a popular market. Those of us who bought the records played them, at home, on our sophisticated turntables. One record would, effortlessly, drop down onto the next one as a result of the record changer. This was heaven on earth.
That is how it all worked back then. Now let's get down to identifying the hit maker who owned the charts 50 years ago today. This young man was a distant relative to one of America's greatest frontiersmen. I will not tell you the last name or it would be a dead give-a-way. This well-established star had created two #1 hits previously but, for thirteen straight releases, the top of the charts had eluded him. Only two of the thirteen songs had even made it into the top 20.
The swift success of this last song, the topic of this post, was a surprise to the artist. In fact, he heard it being played on the radio, on his way home, the same day that he first recorded it in the studio. Things were different back then -- everything happened faster. The owner of the record label had liked the recording session, thought the song was going to be a hit, so he rushed a copy over to a deejay at a major top 40 radio station. The jock slapped it on the turntable and the rest is pop history.
This artist ended up being one of the biggest selling solo artists in history. Despite that success, he has never received much credit or critical acclaim. In part that is probably due to his historically significant role of "homogenizing", and turning into hits, the original works of many of the African-American artists of the era. Looking back on it all, despite the criticism, this man's covers of the black artist's songs helped bring soul and R&B music into the mainstream consciousness. So, ultimately, his efforts did benefit those artists. The song that topped the charts this time was not one of the R&B covers so that makes this archival video an interesting piece. (Check out the camera work, pretty crude and typical of early TV)
Do you think you have this one figured out?
You can find out for sure right now. Simply click on the vintage television and commune with Lawrence Welk. Do so and you will be taken back in time to see this original artist perform his smash hit single that topped the charts exactly 50 years ago this week.
Check out "This Day In History" -- music and vintage television from the 1950's through the 1980's. I enjoy writing these articles because they take me back to my days in radio broadcasting. Click on Elvis' gold record, below, to revisit those golden hits of yesteryear.