By 1960, the first flush of rock ‘n’ roll was past. The payola scandals had helped corporatize radio programming and standardize radio playlists; record companies had figured out a formula for fabricating hits and stars that would sell. As a result, the pop scene was as bland as it had been since the early 50s, before the rock era began. The Cash Box chart dated February 27, 1960, shows it. There is indeed not much rock ‘n’ roll on the chart. The Everly Brothers are there, but “Let it Be Me” is a ballad. Dion and the Belmonts are flying the doo-wop flag with “Where or When.” Johnny and the Hurricanes’ “Beatnik Fly” provides guitar twang, but it’s all the way down at Number 32. Chuck Berry and Bill Haley lurk in the even-lower reaches, with minor-to-insignificant hits. There is plenty of R&B on the chart—Jimmy Jones, Dinah Washington and Brook Benton, Marv Johnson, Lloyd Price, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Nat Kendrick and the Swans, Ray Charles—although few of the records they are hitting with that week are heard much today, either. The country stars are doing better than the rockers—Jim Reeves, Johnny Preston, Marty Robbins, and Conway Twitty are legitimate pop stars. Apart from that, it’s mostly either manufactured idols (Bobby Rydell, Johnny Tillotson, Frankie Avalon, Freddy Cannon, Fabian), MOR stars (Percy Faith, the Four Preps, Perry Como, Steve Lawrence, the Ames Brothers, Teresa Brewer), or novelties (“Teen Angel,” Alvin and the Chipmunks). Not an especially noteworthy week, from a not-especially-memorable era.
Choosing what to post was fairly easy, though. My favorite song on this chart is also one of the most obscure: “Tracy’s Theme” by Spencer Ross. It was featured in a December 1959 TV production of The Philadelphia Story and features somebody named Jimmy Abato playing about six notes on alto saxophone. The provenance of Ross himself is almost entirely lost, except that he is apparently not the longtime New York sportscaster of the same name.
I’m posting this song because I have concocted a bit of mythology about it over the years. I doubt that it’s true, but I’d like it to be. When I hear “Tracy’s Theme,” I picture a sunny but cold late-winter day, with snow covering the farm fields and hills. A young couple hurries from their car into their house. In the woman’s arms is a baby boy, their first child, born only a few days before. They get inside the house, unbundle the baby, and put him in a little crib in the sunny kitchen where he will spend his days, at least for a while. Soon, the young couple turns on their radio. At some point during that winter afternoon, “Tracy’s Theme” plays, and it imprints itself on the little fellow’s little brain. He doesn’t remember hearing it, of course, but, somehow, he never forgets it, either.
The identity of the little fellow is yours to figure out. Fortunately, it shouldn’t be that difficult.