She’s Looking Good

The mid-60s were a fascinating time for aficionados of Billboard‘s Bubbling Under singles chart. In many weeks at that time, the chart contained up to 35 singles, a wealth of not-quite-hits. Continuing with our bubbling under adventures, the six we’ll cover in this post all peaked at #101 and represent the artist’s only charted single.

“Il Silenzio”/Nini Rosso (1/1/66, ten weeks on chart). Ten weeks on the Bubbling Under chart makes this a remarkably successful song for one that’s not a hit by most people’s standards. Nini Rosso was an Italian jazz trumpeter; “Il Silenzio” was a monster in Europe, going to Number One in several countries. It incorporates “Taps” and takes off from there into old-fashioned sentimental loveliness, including a spoken bit in Italian that translates to “Good night, love/I’ll see you in my dreams/Good night to you who are far away.”

“S.O.S. (Heart in Distress)”/Christine Cooper (2/19/66, four weeks). “S.O.S.” was the first production by the team of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, who later created some of Buddah Records’ greatest hits, including hits by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Ohio Express, and under their own name, the magnificently weird “Quick Joey Small,” billed to the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus. (Read more about the early days of the Kasenetz-Katz pairing here.) “S.O.S” is girl-group R&B, but its Morse code noises are pure bubblegum invention.

“He Wore the Green Beret”/Lesley Miller (3/19/66, three weeks). This is an answer song of a sort, responding to “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Barry Sadler. It got a hyperventilating review from Billboard that spring, suggesting that it would perform as well as Sadler’s original. Uh, no—for a couple of reasons. First, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” did five weeks at Number One in the spring of 1966, a hard standard to match. Second, it’s simply dreadful. Although Miller didn’t make the Hot 100, a version by Nancy Ames did, and Miller’s bubbled under a second time in October.

“Impressions”/Jones Boys (9/24/66, four weeks). Here’s a group about which I’ve been able to learn nothing, except that they were on the Atco label. Based on what I found at ARSA, it looks like they got local airplay in Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, so I suspect they may have been from around there, although they racked up their best chart numbers in Denver. They deserved better: “Impressions” is a nice bit of sunshine pop.

“She’s Looking Good”/Rodger Collins (3/25/67, two weeks). Back in the 60s, Collins appeared on concert bills with Elvis, Ike and Tina, Redd Foxx, and Joe Tex, and “She’s Looking Good” is a red-hot Stax-style rager. DJ Prestige over at Flea Market Funk told Collins’ story a few years ago, so go there now.

“All’s Quiet on West 23rd”/Jet Stream (7/1/67, five weeks). Some sources claim that the Jet Stream is actually the Buffalo Springfield, but it isn’t. “All’s Quiet on West 23rd,” according to our pal whiteray at Echoes in the Wind, features bubblegum king Joey Levine on lead vocals (a guy who does not sound like Stephen Stills one bit), and it’s about the 1964 Kitty Genovese case. Genovese was murdered in her New York City apartment, an incident reportedly witnessed by several of her neighbors, who did nothing to help her.

In our next installment, jazz, folk, and an old-time waltz done absolutely straight. You just don’t get this kind of entertainment anywhere else.

There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight

We continue here with our latest boffo series that explores the one-hit wonders whose lone chart hit peaked at #101 on the Hot 100. All data comes from Joel Whitburn’s fabulous Bubbling Under Singles and Albums; all mistakes I made without any help at all. (First installment here.)

“Need Your Love”/The Metallics (4/28/62, five weeks on chart). The Metallics were a doo-wop quartet from Los Angeles. Two of the members were brothers. “Need Your Love” was the first of four singles they made. Lead singer J. D. Wright has one of the most powerful falsettos you’ll ever hear.

“Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You”/Bernie Leighton (9/15/62, six weeks). Leighton was a pianist who recorded extensively with big bands before World War II and as a studio musician afterward. “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” had been a Number-One hit for Connie Francis earlier in 1962. Although I haven’t been able to find Leighton’s version anywhere, it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be an improvement.

“The Bird”/The Dutones (3/23/63, seven weeks). A transparent (and derivative) attempt to start a dance craze, “The Bird” was an early production by future Brunswick Records impresario Carl Davis, sung by Richard Parker and Jerry Brown.  In 1988, it was heard in the John Waters movie Hairspray. Do not confuse these Dutones with the Five Du-Tones, famous for “Shake a Tail Feather”—a record that was also heard in Hairspray.

“Talk Back Trembling Lips”/Ernest Ashworth (10/12/63, six weeks). Ernest Ashworth was a reasonably successful hitmaker on the country charts, with seven top-10 hits between 1960 and 1964. “Talk Back Trembling Lips” was one of only nine singles to top the country chart in 1963, a very good year for country. Legendary songs hitting #1 that year included “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash and Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally.” While “Talk Back Trembling Lips” isn’t in that league, it’s a solid record.

“There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight”/Joe & Eddie (2/22/64, four weeks). Joe Gilbert and Eddie Brown were from Louisiana and Virginia respectively, but met while in high school in California. They were a popular act at the University of California in the Harry Belafonte mold. After being discovered by a record producer, they became stars on the folk scene, although their music tended more toward gospel. They were on a number of important TV shows in the early 60s,  including Hootenanny and Shindig! (where they performed “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight.”) For a brief time in 1963, Gilbert was romantically involved with an aspiring singer named Joni Anderson, later to be known as Joni Mitchell. Joe and Eddie’s career was cut short in 1966 when Gilbert died in an automobile accident.

“Everyday”/The Rogues (1/23/65, four weeks). The Rogues were California bigshots Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher, who did a great deal to popularize surf music in its heyday; “Everyday” is a surf-inspired update of the Buddy Holly original. They recorded as Bruce and Terry, and also cut “Hey Little Cobra,” but credited it to the Rip Chords, a group Melcher had a hand in forming, as a way of boosting that band’s profile. In 2003, Johnston told an interviewer that Columbia Records “hired us to be their rock ‘n’ roll department. We had girls drop by, we’d skateboard round the studios, the bosses were really freaked out—except that we’d get on the charts!”

In the next installment, we travel through the mid 1960s and meet a famous singer under another name, and discover an answer song to  multi-format smash that was one of the biggest hits of 1966.

Vacation Days Are Over

A while back, we did an extensive series called Down in the Bottom, in which we examined the one-hit wonders whose lone chart hit peaked between #90 and #100 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart. But #100 isn’t necessarily the end of the line. From 1959 to mid-1985, and again from 1992 to the present, Billboard has published a Bubbling Under chart, showing the singles that have yet to make it onto the big chart. Over the years, the number of songs on the chart has varied in size, usually at least 10, but as many as 35 during the 1960s.

It occurred to me not long ago that there’s a rich vein of interesting music history/trivia in that chart, so let’s mine some of it: I count something like 60 records between 1959 and 1985 that were the artist’s lone pop chart hit and that peaked at #101, just shy of Hot 100 status. Here are the first six, in chronological order.

“Vacation Days Are Over”/Argyles (10/12/59 five weeks on chart). I am pretty sure this batch of Argyles is not related to the Hollywood Argyles of “Alley Oop” fame despite the fact that both were on the Brent label. “Vacation Days Are Over” is a pretty decent uptempo doo-wop record.

“Scandinavian Shuffle”/Swe-Danes (3/7/60, four weeks). The Swe-Danes were a Danish/Swedish trio. Alice Babs had become a nightclub singer while still a teenager and acted in a number of Swedish films. She was quite the rage with Swedish kids for a time, apparently, and later sang with Duke Ellington. Guitarist Ulrik Neumann was also known as an actor, and violinist Svend Asmussen was a big deal on the Swedish jazz scene. (All biographical details are from Wikipedia, so who the hell knows for sure.) Get a taste of “Scandinavian Shuffle” here, and should you speak Swedish, probably a lot more.

“Come Dance With Me”/Eddie Quinteros (4/18/60, five weeks). Brent Records was having a good year in 1960; Eddie Quinteros was in the label’s stable along with the Argyles, and this song was successful enough to get Quinteros onto American Bandstand in February. One of the musicians on the Richie Valens-esque “Come Dance With Me” is Roy Estrada, one of the founding members of Little Feat.

“Respectable” /The Chants (5/29/61, two weeks). Do not confuse these Chants with a Liverpool-born northern soul group with the same name. “Respectable” is an Isley Brothers tune, recorded on the small family-run label TRU-EKO and leased to MGM once it started getting airplay in New York City. Bill Jerome of TRU-EKO later produced hits by the Left Banke (“Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”) and the 1970s synthesizer novelty “Popcorn” by Hot Butter. Jerome remains an active promotion man to this day.

“Ev’rybody Pony”/Teddy & the Continentals (9/18/61, one week). Teddy and the Continentals were from Wilmington, Delaware, that came up the way so many other bands of the time did, via a local record label. They were a popular attraction around Wilmington for several years in the early 60s. “Ev’rybody Pony” is a competent bit of mid-tempo rock ‘n’ roll that was a top-10 hit in Pittsburgh. (You want trivia, you got it.)

“Trade Winds, Trade Winds”/Aki Aleong (11/20/61, four weeks). Ake Aleong began an acting career in the mid 50s and has made over 250 TV appearances and 40 movies, although for most of the 60s and 70s he was a musician, producer, and record executive. (His best-known production is probably “You Are My Starship,” the 1976 hit by Norman Connors.) “Trade Winds, Trade Winds” is the smoothly tasteful tale of a man on the run for a crime that turns out to be self-defense, and they all live happily ever after, except the dead guy.

Coming in the next installment: a jazz player’s cover of a Connie Francis tune, and a song that hit Number One on the country charts.

Note to Patrons: For the last couple of months, I’ve been repeating posts from the past while I have been off dealing with actual remunerative labor. The pace of said labor has slowed enough to permit me to spend more time with this blog, although the repeats I’ve got scheduled through the end of the month are still going to run. Here’s hoping I’ll someday be busy enough again someday to necessitate more reruns, because I gotta pay the cat’s vet bill somehow.