Well, having missed May Day once again – this time by intention – I thought we’d open the month by taking a look at the charts on May 2 over a period of years. We’ll start by turning the date of 5/2 into 52, and head back fifty-two years to 1961.
Sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 fifty-two years ago today was Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” in the third week of a four-week stay at the top. Fifty-one places lower down was the second entry ever in the Hot 100 by R&B singer Chuck Jackson, “(It Never Happens) In Real Life.” The record would climb another six spots before peaking at No. 46 (No. 22 on the R&B chart). Jackson is better known, of course for “Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird),” which went to No. 23 on the pop chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart in early 1962. Jackson eventually placed twenty-nine singles in or near the Hot 100, and “(It Never Happens) In Real Life” was one of the good ones.
Three years later, in May 1964, the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” was in its fifth and final week at No. 1. Down in the second half of the Hot 100, the James Brown-produced R&B workout “Baby, Baby, Baby” by Anna King and Bobby Byrd was peaking at No. 52. (It would go to No. 2 on the R&B chart.) Byrd, says Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, was the founder and leader of Brown’s backing group, the Famous Flames, and he’d have six more hits in the Hot 100, five of which would reach the R&B Top 40. King was a singer with the James Brown Revue, and “Baby, Baby, Baby” was her second hit in the Hot 100; it would also be her last, although later in 1964, her “Make Up Your Mind” reached No. 38 on the R&B chart. (Sadly, King’s brilliant 1965 answer song to James Brown, “Mama’s Got A Bag Of Her Own,” failed to chart).
Early May in 1967 found the No. 1 spot occupied for the fourth and final week by “Somethin’ Stupid,” the duet by father and daughter Frank and Nancy Sinatra. Down at No. 52, we find the biggest hit by the Philadelphia R&B group, Brenda & The Tabulations. “Dry Your Eyes” had peaked at No. 22 (No. 8, R&B) and was on its way down the charts. Although the group would place twelve more records in or near the Hot 100 into 1972 (and nine more in the R&B Top 40 into 1977), nothing ever did as well again. And that’s not surprising, as “Dry Your Eyes” is a lovely and sweet soul ballad.
As we hit 1970, we find the Jackson 5’s “ABC” sitting in the No. 1 spot for its second and final week. Sitting at No. 52 that week is a record I’ve never heard of, much less heard, until this morning: “My Wife, The Dancer” by Eddie & Dutch. The novelty record, which tells the tale of a man who learns his wife is – in today’s terminology – an exotic dancer, would go no higher. The team of Eddie Mascari and Erwin “Dutch” Wenzlaff had hit the charts twice in 1958 and 1959, when they were billed as the Mark IV; “(Make With) The Shake” was a rock ’n’ roll workout with a tongue-in-cheek subtext (at least to these ears) that went to No. 69, and “I Got A Wife” was a novelty record that went to No. 24.
In the first week of May in 1973, the No. 1 record was “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando. The wince-inducing record was in the third of an eventual four weeks at No. 1. Things are better – though decidedly in the middle of the road – at No. 52, where Perry Como’s cover of Don McLean’s “And I Love You So” was making its way up the charts, en route to No. 29 on the pop chart and a one-week stay at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was the fifty-first of fifty-three records the Pennsylvania-born Como would place in or near the Hot 100 between 1954 and 1974.
In early May 1976, the No. 1 spot was held down by “Welcome Back,” John Sebastian’s theme from the TV series Welcome Back Kotter. Near the top of the chart’s second half, we find the truly abysmal “When Love Has Gone Away” by Richard Cocciante, heading back down the chart after peaking at No. 41. As he half-speaks and half-sings the first portion of the record, Cocciante – born in Saigon in 1946 when Vietnam was still a French colony – sounds a little like a Mediterranean Dylan. When he starts screaming after the overwhelming instrumental bridge, well, the only reason I kept listening was to see how bad it could get. How enough people liked this record so that it even sniffed the chart, much less made it to No. 41, is a mystery.