We don’t spend a lot of time here back in the 1950s. The main reason for that is that I don’t remember much about the decade. I was six and in first grade when the calendar flipped from 1959 to 1960, and I have a few specific memories from that school year – and from kindergarten the year before – but other than those, I have just vague impressions of the last years of that decade.
As for Odd and Pop, I have no idea where they were or what they were up to back then. Probably complicating the life of an aspiring folk musician in a small college town somewhere. I can hear Pop saying, “Enunciate! Quit dropping those g’s!” while Odd tells him, “Bongo drums and some bird calls would work well with that.”
But we are in the 1950s today (although likely without either bongos or bird calls). Why?
Well, I was digging this morning into the Billboard charts from March 15 over the years, planning on playing Games With Numbers with today’s date and checking out the No. 35 record from four or so charts from 1958 to 1980, and then I dug into the Top 100 from March 15, 1958. (It would be called the Hot 100 beginning that August).
And that week, there was no record at No. 35. Instead, three records were tied at No. 33. Close enough, I thought, noting that the three records offer three different levels of success and consequent fame: One megastar, one well-remember performer, and one obscure and perhaps mostly forgotten group.
The first of the three records at No. 33 in that chart from fifty-nine years ago was from Ricky Nelson, whose “Stood Up” had already peaked, spending three weeks at No. 2, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles. It was Nelson’s fourth Top Ten record; sixteen more singles and four EPs would also hit the Top Ten. “Stood Up” also went to No. 4 on the Billboard R& B chart and to No. 5 on the magazine’s country chart. Beyond that, there’s not a lot new to say here because, hey, he was Ricky Nelson, and we pretty much all know the story.
Listed second among the three records tied during that long-ago week was “Betty and Dupree” from Chuck Willis, which was at its peak. The record was a trimmed and decriminalized version of a blues song based on a 1919 robbery of a jewelry store in Atlanta that had been recorded in various versions since at least 1931. Willis, who’s nevertheless credited as the writer on single labels I’ve seen, dropped the robbery, Dupree’s arrest, and his eventual hanging and made the tune a simple, swaying story of love that went to No. 15 on the R&B chart as well as peaking at No. 33 on the pop chart. It’s not the record for which the short-lived Willis is most remembered; that would likely be “C.C. Rider,” which went to No. 12 on the pop chart and to No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1957.
That’s all interesting enough, but – getting away from the original topic here – it turned out that “Betty and Dupree,” was the next-to-last record Willis saw reach the charts. The last was “Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” which entered the Top 100 on April 28, 1958, two days before Willis died from a bleeding ulcer. In one of life’s ironies, the B-side, “What Am I Living For,” hit the R&B chart a week later and the Top 100 a week after that, and would out-perform the A-side, peaking at No. 9 on the pop chart and spending a week on top of the R&B chart.
And then we get to the third of the records tied at No. 33 in that Top 100 from March 15, 1958: “7-11” by the Gone All Stars. Whitburn tells us that the tune is a rock version of Perez Prado’s 1950 record, “Mambo No. 5.” As to the Gone All Stars, Whitburn says they were studio musicians led by black sax player Buddy Lucas. (Lucas’ entry at Wikipedia includes a brief and incomplete listing of his work as a leader and sideman from the years 1952 to 1976 and also offers the thought that Lucas was “possibly more famous for his session work on harmonica.”) The record was released on the Gone label – as were at least one other single and an EP by the group – and for me, the fact that the group was seemingly named for the label takes some of the Fifties-era hipness out of the group’s name.