I wanted to do something different this week, so let’s look at the top 10 on the pop (The Top 100), country (C&W Best Sellers in Stores), and R&B (R&B Best Sellers in Stores) charts for this week, 60 years ago, according to Billboard (of course).
The Top 100 was an aggregate chart, not unlike today’s Hot 100 (which was started the following year, 1958). The abbreviations stand for: S-Sales, A-Airplay, and J-Jukebox. And weirdly, at the time, the Billboard charts allowed for ties. As always, my invaluable source for the pop charts is the amazing website Weekly Top 40; for other charts, it’s the marvelous searchable Billboard magazine archive.
1 2 LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND –•– Pat Boone (Dot)-6 (1S/1A/2J) (1 wk @ #1) (1) — The second-biggest artist of the ’50s had the bulk of his hits by whitewashing — fairly literally — the R&B hits of the day, thus making them “acceptable” for white audiences. This is fairly anodyne, and for once is not an example of said whitewashing. From Boone’s film Bernardine, this spent 5 weeks at #1 and finished as the #2 single of the year. I guess it was good for slow dances?
2 1 ALL SHOOK UP –•– Elvis Presley (RCA Victor)-11 (6S/2A/1J) (1) — And this was the #1 single of 1957, an original which, as you can see below, was a cross-format smash, because Elvis was a true cross-format star. (It in fact topped all three major charts.) I didn’t really get Elvis until the 2002 release of the ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits comp, which really drove him to me just how important and frankly, incredible his talents were. While he wasn’t the greatest singer of songs, he was most definitely one of the greatest sellers of them.
3 3 t A WHITE SPORT COAT (And a Pink Carnation) –•– Marty Robbins (Columbia)-10 (3S/5A/4J) (3) — Produced by Mitch Miller, arranged by Ray Conniff, but yet to my ears it’s plenty country in spite of those gents’ hands in the record. A lovely why-won’t-you-go-to-prom-with-me song, this is simultaneously smooth and country, largely a credit to Robbins’ prodigious talents as a singer. 5 weeks #1 country, #2 peak pop.
4 5 SO RARE –•– The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra (Fraternity)-17 (4S/3A/7J) (4) — From Billboard‘s original review: “A smart arrangement here of the appealing oldie [a 1937 #1 for Guy Lombardo] with the Dorsey alto wailing most of the way through. Nice choral effects adorn the side making it a contender for disk jockey and jukebox action. With enough push, this could sell copies.” Some have called this the last big band hit to go top 5 pop after the rock’n’roll invasion. It makes me swoon.
5 3 t LITTLE DARLIN’ –•– The Diamonds (Mercury)-14 (9S/4A/3J) (2) — Maurice Williams wrote it, and his Gladiolas (later the Zodiacs) had an R&B hit on it, but this was the smash version, the #3 single of ’57. It’s a quick little punch of punchy doo-wop that even I can like (and I don’t generally go for doo-wop).
6 7 DARK MOON –•– Gale Storm (Dot)-9 (7S/11A/5J) (6) — Randy Wood, the co-producer of Bonnie Guitar’s original version, which charted country a couple months prior, produced this one as well, and brought a bit of country feel to it, making the strummed acoustic guitar the most prominent instrument. Storm’s very pure, clear voice complements the sad lyric well.
7 6 SCHOOL DAY –•– Chuck Berry (Chess)-11 (8S/9A/8J) (5) — “No Particular Place to Go” came seven years later; this was its primary template.
8 11 DARK MOON –•– Bonnie Guitar (Dot)-10 (12S/6 tA/12J) (8) — Oh, look, it’s Bonnie Guitar’s original take on “Dark Moon” — which, weirdly, reads less country to me than Gale Storm’s version.
9 9 ROUND AND ROUND –•– Perry Como (RCA Victor)-17 (20S/8A/9J) (1) — Great melody, dull lyrics. Bonus: the Ray Charles Singers backing up!
10 t 10 COME GO WITH ME –•– The Dell-Vikings (Dot)-18 (13S/15A/11J) (5) — Like many of my generation, I learned this song from the 1986 Rob Reiner film Stand By Me. But I really, really dislike it.
10 t 8 GONE –•– Ferlin Husky (Capitol)-16 (16S/16A/6J) (4) — 10 weeks #1 country, #4 pop, this first record recorded at Owen Bradley’s Quonset Hut is considered by some to the be initial example of what would become known as “the Nashville sound.” It’s bathed in backing vocals (the Jordanaires!) and strings; apart from Husky’s voice, there’s not a lot quote-unquote country about this. But it sure is lovely.
2 FOUR WALLS — Reeves’ first #1 in three years (almost there!) was an understated ballad with piano by Floyd Cramer, guitar by Chet Atkins, and backing vocals by (of course) the Jordanaires. It’s achingly beautiful.
4 GONNA FIND ME A BLUEBIRD — Rainwater used his rich baritone to fine effect on “Bluebird,” his first hit and only top 10 country single (heading to #3) or top 40 pop single (#18). It’s a shave that vocal troubles scuttled his career, because it could’ve been interesting to see how he’d have adapted to country in the ’60s.
6 HONKY TONK SONG — Pierce was the biggest country artist of the 1950s: this was his 13th (and final) #1 single of the decade, a decade in which he clocked up an astounding 39 top 10 singles. “Honky Tonk Song” was very much on-brand for the man who did “In the Jailhouse Now,” and features the marvelous opening line “I got me a room at a cheap motel.” Nearly every Webb Pierce record brings a smile to my face.
7 FRAULEIN — This isn’t Bobby Helms’ biggest hit, even though it spent four weeks at #1 and an absurd 52 weeks on the chart in total — because he’s also the man who originally recorded “Jingle Bell Rock.” That said, a record like “Fraulein” would nearly be a career record for almost anyone. It plunks along at a stately pace, a 4/4 song that sounds as if it’s in waltz time. I can provide no insight as to why it hung around the chart for an entire year, frankly.
8/9 BYE BYE LOVE — Cover versions were common in the ’50s; concurrent cover versions weren’t even rare. So at the same time the Everly Brothers hit #1 country/#2 pop with “Bye Bye Love,” country king Pierce took his own version to #7 country. Spoiler alert: his is nowhere near as good, mainly because Pierce sings it oddly straight. There’s no rhythm here. The Everlys’ version is pumped up by Archie Bleyer’s jauntier production, and their perfect harmonies.
10 WALKIN’ AFTER MIDNIGHT — Down from its #2 peak, this was the very first hit for the prodigiously talented Cline — and with her first hit, she delivered a classic. From the steel guitar to the acoustic bass line to the “clip clop” rhythm to, most of all, Cline’s aching vocal, everything about this record is, in fact, perfect. The first country album I ever owned, on cassette, was the 1988 version of her 1967 hits comp, retitled 12 Greatest Hits for its CD-era release. These days I prefer the two-disc Gold for maximum Patsy, but really, as long as you’ve got some Cline in your collection, you can’t go wrong.
1 SEARCHIN’ — The Coasters succeeded themselves at #1 when the flip of “Young Blood” replaced it at the top — but was much, much bigger, spending 12 weeks atop the chart. This Leiber/Stoller tune is fine as midtempo chugs go, but nothing about it stands out for me.
4 C.C. RIDER — Ma Rainey, 1925; Bea Booze, 1943; the Orioles, 1952 — but none of these prior versions opened with a vibraphone! This relaxed take on a blues standard hit the top and kicked off a nationwide dance craze for “the Stroll.” It’s like supper-club blues, and I ain’t mad at that.
6 VALLEY OF TEARS — A tender midtempo made for semi-slow dancing, Fats sings this sensitively and is backed up by a female chorus of otherworldly cooing. It’s kind of like a sadder “Blueberry Hill” played at half-speed.
7 OVER THE MOUNTAIN — Listen to this one on headphones and really pay attention to the backing vocals (which I assume are by Johnnie, since Joe’s on leads): they’re kind of eerie. Another midtempo chug with elements of doo-wop poking through here and there.
9 JUST TO HOLD MY HAND — Clyde McPhatter’s sweet, high tenor lent itself nicely to a solo career after he left the Drifters in 1954. This one’s spritely.
10 NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME — A 12-bar blues/shuffle absolutely made for dancing — I mean, this was a time for dancing — this big band song is of an ilk with the Louis Jordan catalog, with a smooth-voiced man taking the lead. Of note regarding this top 10: apart from Johnnie of Johnnie & Joe, there are no women to be found as lead artists here.