And That’s All Right With Me

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: if you see this van a-rockin’, you know what not to do.)

I got this post ready to go on One-Hit Wonder Day last September then ended up not running it for some reason. So here it is today. 

If we had some kind of tournament for the most quintessentially 70s songs—those that most effectively capture the essence of the times, in the way they sound and the things they say—wouldn’t Sammy Johns’ lone big hit, “Chevy Van,” have to be in the semifinals?

The song is sung by a guy driving one of those vans, and if you remember the 70s, you know the kind I mean: elaborately painted on the outside and big enough to live in on the inside, or at least big enough to sleep in, or not sleep in, when necessary.

I gave a girl a ride in my wagon
She crawled in and took control
She was tired cuz her mind was a-draggin’
I said “get some sleep and dream of rock and roll”

What a perfectly 70s line: “get some sleep and dream of rock and roll.” It’s quite lovely, actually—dream of something utterly out of this world and time, something simple and unthreatening, purely pleasurable and fun. It’s obvious he’s not suggesting she dream of Black Sabbath or Emerson Lake and Palmer, but rather of something that rocks easy, like “Chevy Van” itself.

There is no doubt that Sammy is checking her out, the moonlight on her hair, her angel’s face, her long and tanned legs. Because this is the 1970s, however, she’s not entirely down with being objectified: “Better keep your eyes on the road, son / Better slow this vehicle down.” Yet at the same time, she really does need a lift to the next town, and she’s willing to use what she’s got to get what she wants: “She’s gonna love me in my Chevy van and that’s all right with me.”

And because this is the 70s, we turn discreetly away from the scene and listen to a gentle wah-wah against a wall of acoustic guitars before Sammy fast-forwards to the end of the story.

I put her out in a town that was so small
You could roll a rock from end to end
A dirt road main street, she walked off in bare feet
It’s a shame I won’t be passing through again 

Then Sammy sings the refrain one last time, slightly altered, in which we learn that what was going to happen has just happened: “We made love in my Chevy van / And that’s all right with me.”

An easy-rockin’ song of the road about a casual sexual encounter in the back of a van with a beautiful, nameless, barefoot hitchhiker? It doesn’t get more 70s than that.

“Chevy Van” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 during the week of January 25, 1975, and hit the big chart the next week. It peaked at #5 in Billboard and Cash Box during the week of May 3 but plunged swiftly off both charts, gone by June. Its chart run roughly coincides with the time when I was involved with my first serious girlfriend. We could imagine what Sammy and the stranger were doing in there, but what it had to do with us—how we might contrive to get to that point—wasn’t entirely clear. I had no van—no driver’s license yet—and certainly no line as smooth as “get some sleep and dream of rock and roll.”

Sammy Johns had charted one Hot 100 single before “Chevy Van” and would chart one more afterward. In their wake, he lived a rock star’s life—broke and in rehab by the end of the 70s. By the 80s, he was back writing songs, however, many of which were country hits, including the #1 single “Common Man,” recorded by John Conlee in 1983. The refrain of “Common Man” includes the lines “I’m a common man / Drive a common van.”

“I’ve had it since the 70s,” the Common Man might also say. “You shoulda seen it then.”

(This post was rebooted from one appearing shortly after Sammy Johns died, on January 4, 2013.)

Makin’ It

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Doris Troy takes five, 1969.)

(Before we begin: if you indicated interest in my e-mail thing last week, check your e-mail today for something from jb titled “Hello and Welcome to the Sidepiece.” Check your spam filter, too. It maybe knows better what’s worthwhile.)

Back on One Hit Wonder Day, my post included the top one-hit wonder in each year from 1955 through 1986. Later, I fell down a rabbit hole looking at other one-hit artists who made the Billboard Top 10 during the same period. The list follows. If a year is missing, the song shown on the other list was the only Top-10 one hitter in that year. Again, this is far longer than I like my posts to be, but insert shrug emoji here. If I missed any, I trust you’ll tell me.

Continue reading “Makin’ It”

A Century of One-Hit Wonders

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Kim Novak, Susan Strasberg, William Holden, and Cliff Robertson show some skin in the 1955 movie Picnic, which featured a performance of “Moonglow” that turned out to be a classic one-hitter.)

This post is longer than I like ’em to be around here but too short to split into two parts, so here’s the whole thing. 

Today is One-Hit Wonder Day. Back in 2007, I researched a list of the most successful one-hit wonders in recorded history for almost a century, going back to the 1800s via Joel Whitburn’s Pop Memories: 1890-1954. Songs on the first part of the list each made #1 or #2, and represent the only record the act charted.

Continue reading “A Century of One-Hit Wonders”


Today is One-Hit Wonder Day. We take as our text for today’s meditation the Radio and Records Pop 40 from the week of September 19, 1975. It’s an adult-contemporary chart from the now-defunct industry magazine, and I’m going to cross-reference it with the Billboard Hot 100 chart because that’s our true Bible around here.

(To see a bigger image of the chart, which I swiped from the excellent Radio Rewinder Twitter feed, click it.)

Some artists on this list are sometimes considered to be one-hit wonders, but are not. Morris Albert, for example, conquered the world with “Feelings,” but reached #93 on the Hot 100 with “Sweet Loving Man” in February 1976. Batdorf and Rodney also made the Hot 100 twice: “You Are a Song” got to #87, and “Somewhere in the Night” rose to #69 in a three-week run in December 1975. And although “Third Rate Romance” is the only Amazing Rhythm Aces tune to hit the Billboard Top 40, they hit the Hot 100 two other times, with “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song)” and “The End Is Not in Sight,” both in 1976.

One act on this chart is technically a no-hit wonder as far as the Hot 100 is concerned. Paul Delicato hit Billboard‘s adult-contemporary chart five times in 1975 and 1976 without ever making the Hot 100—one of only four artists from the 60s to the early 90s to have that many AC hits without breaking the big chart. The full title of his hit on the 9/19/75 Pop 40 is “Ice Cream Sodas and Lollipops and a Red-Hot Spinning Top.” Delicato started as a session guitarist and bass player in his native St. Louis, which brought him to the attention of Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King, Little Milton, and others. In later years, he performed and produced musical revues in Las Vegas, Branson, and other resort towns.

Cotton, Lloyd, and Christian’s “I Go to Pieces,” made famous by Del Shannon and Peter and Gordon, was their only Hot 100 hit, eventually reaching #66. (A second record, “I Can Sing, I Can Dance,” made Billboard‘s AC chart but not the Hot 100.) Michael Lloyd produced hits for the Osmonds, Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Belinda Carlisle, and Barry Manilow, among others. He was also music supervisor on the movie Dirty Dancing. Chris Christian had a couple of minor hits as a solo act; the one you might remember is “I Want You, I Need You” from 1981. Darryl Cotton had been a successful musician in Australia going back to the 60s, and would continue to be in the 80s and beyond, also becoming a prominent actor in Oz.

Englishman John Dawson Read made two albums in the mid 70s, A Friend of Mine Is Going Blind and Read On. After that, he raised a family and went into private, non-musical business, but still continued to write and perform a bit. In 2005, he returned to the studio for an album titled Now, Where Were We? “A Friend of Mine Is Going Blind,” inspired by and dedicated to a friend of Read’s who suffered from muscular dystrophy, made #72 on the Hot 100.

Certain groups are so obscure that the Internet knows practically nothing about them. Like East L.A. Car Pool, whose “Like They Say in L.A.” made #72 on the Hot 100. Joel Whitburn says they were led by conga player Jack J. Gold, who also produced their lone hit. Gold had a brief career as a studio musician in the early 70s before becoming an attorney (which he seems to have been doing while playing with East L.A. Car Pool). He was also technical consultant on a couple of movies, and eventually a juvenile court commissioner in Los Angeles County. The legal system played a role in the career of East L.A. Car Pool, as it turned out. They were on the GRC label, which was part of the recording empire of Michael Thevis, who made a lot of money producing porn films in the 70s and laundered it through his record labels, until a business partner informed on him and the whole edifice crashed down. Read more about that here.

There’s one other record on this list that may have caught your eye like it caught mine: “I Believe I’m Gonna Love You” by Frank Sinatra, sitting way up at #3. Although Sinatra would hit the Hot 100 only one more time after “I Believe I’m Gonna Love You” made #47, he hit the Billboard AC chart eight more times, as late as 1984. Pretty much the opposite of a one-hit wonder. 

More and More

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: a look inside my head, and maybe yours too.)

Certain songs seem to have been in my head forever. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a house where the radio was always on. When I hear those songs now, they come with associations positively ancient, from the beginning of time and possibly before. A lot of those songs date back to the late 50s and the early 60s, to what I have called “time without a calendar,” before I started listening to my own radio stations and could use the record charts to mark my passage through the years. A lot of them call up rainy Saturday afternoons, Mother bustling around the house doing the endless chores required while raising two and later three young boys, those young boys with Lincoln Logs or Tinkertoys spread out across the living room, Dad periodically coming in from whatever he was doing outside, and all of it soundtracked by our hometown radio station, or maybe by WGN from Chicago.

This post is about one of those songs.

Doris “Dotty” Babb was in showbiz early, having performed at Carnegie Hall in the late 1920s, when she was 13 years old. As a girl, she also performed on Broadway and radio. But showbiz was not going to be her life. She was attending business school when she met Art Todd, a fellow musician from her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and married him the same year, 1941. After Art got home from the Second World War, they relocated to California, where they worked in radio, and played hotels and casinos.

Art and Dotty Todd eventually got a record deal from RCA; in 1953, “Broken Wings” did big business in the UK but nothing at all in the States. In 1958, songwriter/producer Wayne Shanklin brought them “Chanson D’Amour,” and they cut a demo in the style of Les Paul and Mary Ford, who had recorded a string of successful duets going back to 1951. But no record label wanted it until a small label called Era decided to bite. (Even then, one of Era’s owners told the other that “Chanson D’Amour” was, in his words, a “piece of shit.”) Rather than recutting it, Era released the demo as it was.

“Chanson D’Amour” rose to #6 on Billboard‘s Top 100 in May 1958, and was a #1 hit at WOKY in Milwaukee and at WGR in Buffalo. Art believed that its popularity was partly driven by the resistance of some DJs to rock ‘n’ roll, and their preference for more traditional sounds. (In Buffalo, it ran the Top 10 alongside the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Twilight Time” by the Platters, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and David Seville’s novelty “Witch Doctor.”) “Chanson D’Amour” got its first big boost when it was featured on the TV show Your Hit Parade. Art and Dotty themselves appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and on American Bandstand as well; I have seen a clip of their Bandstand appearance, which featured Dick Clark introducing them from horseback for some reason, but it’s not at YouTube anymore.

Six decades later, it’s easy to hear the appeal of “Chanson D’Amour”: Art and Dotty’s close harmonies, the ever-so-slightly lascivious saxophone (which honks just enough to appeal to rock ‘n’ roll fans of 1958), and “rah-ta-ta-ta-da.”

For all their success in 1958, Art and Dotty Todd never returned to the big Billboard chart, although they continued to record and perform. They were regulars at casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, and in 1980 moved to Hawaii and opened a club there. Dotty Todd died in 2000 at age 87; Art died in 2007 at age 90. Wayne Shanklin, who had written Frankie Laine’s big 1951 hit “Jezebel,” went on to write “Primrose Lane,” a 1959 hit for Jerry Wallace (another song that comes to me with associations from the deepest past). He died in 1970.

In 1953, Art and Dotty’s “Broken Wings” was outdone in the UK by a version by the Stargazers, which went to #1. Their “Chanson D’Amour” was bested in the UK as well, but not until years later. In 1977, Manhattan Transfer took a version to #1. While it imitates Art and Dotty, it doesn’t capture whatever was the indefinable something that made the original insinuate itself into my head years before, when I was too young to know it.

Mike Kennedy, Call Your Office

Embed from Getty Images

(For One-Hit Wonder Day today, here’s something rebooted from posts that originally appeared in 2007 and 2008.)

Imagine that you are a musician, and through a combination of hard work and luck, you score a hit record. For 12 or 14 weeks, you’re on the radio. Old friends are calling you up; promoters want to get you on concert bills; in the back of your mind you think, “This is what it’s like to be a star.” As all records do, yours eventually slides down the charts, but not to worry. You’ll be back. But you never get back. The fact that people don’t forget your record is a small consolation, but all things considered, you’d probably rather be Paul McCartney. You’re a one-hit wonder.

If you had to be a one-hit wonder, the 60s through the 80s was probably the best time to be one. Boomer nostalgia and the proliferation of oldies-based radio formats conspire to keep lots of records alive that would otherwise have disappeared into the void. Those factors also keep musicians working as musicians, when in past times they might have had to take up less glamorous careers to pay the mortgage.

We have noted here before that many artists people think are one-hit wonders really aren’t. It comes down to how you define “hit.” Lots of people go by “only one song anyone remembers,” but that’s really not enough for geeks such as we. Some people think it means only one hit in the Top 40, even if that artist had other hits between #41 and #100 on the Hot 100, or hits on other charts. Some say one hit in the Hot 100 and that’s all. At this blog, I think I’ve probably defined them in all of these ways at one time or another. As years go by, I get less dogmatic about it, but at least I have some standards. As Professor O’Kelly noted just today, some people don’t.

On the flip are two artists who hit the Top 40 once and the lower reaches of the Hot 100 at other times.

Continue reading “Mike Kennedy, Call Your Office”