It’s Groundhog Day today, and it’s sunny, so our local groundhog – wherever he keeps his den – has certainly seen his shadow by now. And because I have no mp3s in the library that have the word “groundhog” in their titles, it’s time this morning for some Games With Numbers.
We’re going to take today’s date – 2/2 – and check out some Billboard Hot 100 charts that were actually released on February 2. And then we’re going to look at the records that were at No. 2 and at No. 22. We’ll look at three Hot 100s that qualify from 1955 through 1963 (staying in that era mostly because so much of what is listed on later charts is so very familiar). Out of six records, we should find something that will please our ears this morning.
We’ll start, as I just noted, back in 1955, which brings us to two sister acts. At No. 2, we find the Fontane Sisters’ “Hearts of Stone,” a mellow harmony workout with a couple of decent saxophone breaks. The record, the first by the sisters to hit the charts, had been No. 1 a week before. Later in 1955, the Fontane Sisters, who hailed from New Milford, New Jersey, would see their “Seventeen” go to No. 3. Five more of their records reached the Top 20, and a total of eighteen of their records got into or near the Hot 100 before the Fontanes fell out of the charts for good.
At No. 22 in that long-ago chart, we find the DeCastro sisters with their first Hot 100 appearance and the first appearance in that chart of the classic “Teach Me Tonight,” a tune written in 1953 by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn. The DeCastro sisters, who were born in Cuba, weren’t the first to record the song – jazz singer Janet Brace was – but the DeCastros’ version went to No. 2, making it the best-charting of the more than sixty recordings of the tune since the mid-1950s. (The most recent version of the song to chart came from Al Jarreau [No. 70] in 1982.)
The next Hot 100 to come out on February 2 came four years later in 1959. The No. 2 record that week was “The All American Boy,” a Bobby Bare recording that was erroneously credited on the label to Bill Parsons. The record is a tongue-in-cheek workout that’s related both in tone and musical style to Eddie Cochran’s 1958 hit “Summertime Blues.” (Its descendants include some of the talking blues of Bob Dylan and, unavoidably, the Who’s 1970 version of “Summertime Blues.”) It was Bare’s first record to hit the pop chart. He’d have fifteen more – all under his real name – through 1974, and of course, many more than that on the country charts.
At No. 22 on February 2, 1959, the day of the Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” (And if that sentence doesn’t give you a little chill, you’re at the wrong blog.) It was Valens’ third charting single, and two more would hit the chart posthumously. “La Bamba” would show up in the Hot 100 three more times: by the Tokens (No. 85 in 1962), Trini Lopez (No. 86 in 1966) and Los Lobos (No. 1 for three weeks in 1987).
We move to February 2, 1963, and find “Hey Paula” by Paul & Paula sitting in the No. 2 spot. The record, the duo’s first hit, would later top the pop chart for three weeks and the R&B chart for two weeks. Paul & Paula would have seven more records in or near the Hot 100 into 1964, but nothing ever approached the success of that first charting hit. (I think my sister had a copy of “Hey Paula,” and, at the age of nine or so, I thought it was sappy, but when I hear the tune these days, I flash to the movie Animal House, which used the record in its soundtrack and which I almost always watch to the end any time I run into it on cable.)
Finally, at No. 22 on February 2, 1963, we find the smooth voice of Brook Benton and “Hotel Happiness.” The record, which works as kind of a complement – seven years later, to be sure – to Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” had peaked in January at No. 3 (No. 2 on the R&B chart). Benton accumulated a remarkable total of fifty-eight records in or near the Hot 100 between 1958 and 1972, a total that placed him as of 2009 in a tie with Madonna for twenty-fourth place all-time.
So there we have six. The Fontanes’ hit from 1955 is a little too sweet. As to the DeCastros’ record, well, I love “Teach Me Tonight,” and I find the muted trumpets and wandering sax break more appealing than I think a lot of folks would. Many other weeks, I’d go with the DeCastros. But we can do better this week.
“Hey Paula” and “La Bamba” can be dismissed, simply for familiarity. On another day, I might be pulled into a discussion of their aesthetic value, but not today. And as much as I like Brook Benton’s voice and “Hotel Happiness,” which I heard for the first time this morning, we’ll pass on that one, too.
That leaves Bobby Bare, credited as Bill Parson, and his witty hit from 1959, “The All American Boy” as today’s Saturday Single.