There it sat, nearly at the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 that was released April 2, 1966, forty-seven years ago today: “Elvira” by Dallas Frazier, bubbling under at No. 134.* Of course, I love bottom-dwellers, and I like to dig up covers, so I grabbed my reference books and my mouse and dug in. Here’s where I started:
The song was familiar, of course, but not from Frazier’s version. His record got no higher than No. 72, and as I wasn’t listening to Top 40 radio at the time anyway, I’m reasonably sure I’d never heard it until today. (I thought for a moment that I might have heard it unmemorably during a ride in my dad’s 1952 Ford, where the radio was always tuned to WVAL’s country tunes, but the record didn’t show up on the country chart at all. Other records by Frazier did, as did many songs that he wrote. A look at his bio at All Music Guide is instructive.)
The version I knew, of course, was by the Oak Ridge Boys, a record that went to No. 5 on the pop chart and to No. 1 on the country chart and became one of the defining sounds of the summer of 1981. I liked the record well enough (though I got weary of it as it got near the end of its run on the charts), but not writing or thinking much about music at the time, I never wondered where the song came from or where it had been in the interim.
Of course, I wonder about those things now, which is why I was pleased to find Frazier’s original version listed in that long-ago Hot 100. Among the interesting names that showed up when I went digging for covers of the song were Kenny Rogers & The First Edition in 1970, Rodney Crowell in 1977, Ronnie Hawkins in 1979, Sleepy LaBeef in 1996, the Mexican group Yndio (with a Spanish version that I cannot date today), a children’s chorus called Drew’s Famous Kids in 2003 and the undying studio group, the Countdown Singers, in 2004.
There was also a 1967 version by an R&B singer named Baby Ray whose entry in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles is one record deep: A novelty record titled “There’s Something On Your Mind,” which peaked at No. 69 as 1966 turned to 1967. Baby Ray, a New Orleans native whose real name was Raymond Eddlemon, turned in a decent New Orleans-tinged version of “Elvira” but has pretty much been lost to history: Whitburn lists neither a birth date nor death date for him.
There are no doubt other versions out there. I do like Frazier’s original, but the version that I probably like the best is Hawkins’, from his 1979 album The Hawk. I’m not sure who’s doing the guitar work; the credits at All Music Guide, which look like they might be complete, list three guitarists: James Burton, Keith Allison and Waddy Wachtel. I could make a guess but no more than that. Whoever it is, the guitar part has echoes of Duane Allman. And there, without guessing, we’ll call it a day. (The video below also incudes Frazier’s original.)
*Right on the bottom of the chart, bubbling under at No. 135, was another record with a woman’s name in it: “My Darling Hildegarde” by the Statler Brothers. Maybe another time.