One Chart Dig: June 2, 1962

As the school year ended and the green promise of summer lay ahead for your eight-year-old narrator in 1962, one thing that he wasn’t thinking about was an iconic American television series that had just reached of the half-way point of its four-year run.

I don’t know that the eight-year-old whiteray had any broad dreams heading into that summer. He would have been thinking about the soon-to-begin summer enrichment courses he would take – this might have been the summer when he and his classmates studied Alaska – and he was thinking about swimming lessons on cold mornings.

He was without doubt thinking about his pal Rick and the yard games and bicycle rides and other pastimes they’d find in the next three months. He might also have had in mind the prospect of one or more trips during the summer to Municipal Stadium on the west end of town, where the players of the local baseball team – the St. Cloud Rox of the Northern League – followed their own summer dreams.

But, unless I’m very wrong, he was spending no time at all thinking about Route 66. The CBS television show completed the second of its four seasons on the evening of June 1, 1962, with, says Wikipedia, Tod Stiles – played by Martin Milner – heading off in search of a runaway henpecked husband. (George Maharis’ character, Buz Murdock, was absent, as Maharis was hospitalized with hepatitis as the time, Wikipedia notes.)

I was, I guess, aware of Route 66, the highway. Before the Interstate highway system was built, Route 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and was celebrated in literature, folklore and song. Bobby Troup’s famed song, “Route 66,” was first recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946 as “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” and went to No. 3 on the R&B chart. Since then, the tune has been covered by a long line of performers, including – as noted again by Wikipedia – Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Manhattan Transfer and Depeche Mode. Others listed at All-Music Guide as having covered the tune include Asleep at the Wheel, Buckwheat Zydeco, the Four Freshmen, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Mel Tormé, Perry Como, Harry James, Van Morrison’s Them, and the list goes on and on.

Here’s a black and white video of Troup performing his composition on a Julie London television show in 1964. (The original poster at YouTube says the show was from Japan, and the poster also notes that Troup was married to London.)

The iconic television show, surprisingly, did not fare particularly well in the ratings, finishing out of the Top 30 shows in the Neilsen ratings during two of its four seasons. It had finished in 30th place during its first season in 1960-61, and then was in 27th place in the ratings during the 1962-63 season. But its story lines – the wandering pair crossing America in their very cool Corvette, their lives intersecting dramatically with those of the people they meet – added to the historically charged locales of one of America’s great highways to create a television series that’s seemingly remembered long after others of its time have been forgotten.

And then there was the music. No, not Troup’s “Route 66,” although the song’s popularity may have helped the television series gain viewers. The music for the show was original. For a theme, the show’s producers turned to Nelson Riddle, who’d created a signature sound for Capitol Records and its stars – Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and more – in the 1950s.

Riddle provided the show with a signature theme. And in the Billboard Hot 100 released forty-nine years ago today, “Route 66 Theme” was at No. 93, heading to an eventual peak position of No. 30. It would be Riddle’s fourth and final Top 40 hit. (“Lisbon Antigua” spent four weeks at No. 1 in 1956; “Port Au Prince” went to No. 20 and “Theme From ‘The Proud Ones’” went to No. 39 later that year.) Riddle would go on to write and produce through the 1960s and then find his career reinvigorated in the 1980s by his work with Linda Ronstadt on her series of three albums of standards.

But I don’t know that he ever again did anything quite as cool as “Route 66 Theme.”

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4 Responses to “One Chart Dig: June 2, 1962”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    Nelson Riddle’s evocative theme song was definitely one of television’s best, but the decision to film ‘Route 66’ on location also made the show memorable. My hometown of Hopkins, MN was all abuzz when the sixth episode of season four was being filmed at a local raspberry farm, which, if memory serves, was located in the vicinity of Shady Oak Road in either Minnetonka or Eden Prairie. It was hard to find a local teenager who hadn’t spent at least part of one summer picking raspberries to earn a few bucks.

    It would be fun to see that episode again, but nothing beyond season three has thus far seen release on video. Hopkins still has its annual Raspberry Festival, but the area’s raspberry farms disappeared one by one not long after ‘Route 66’ hit the road.

  2. porky says:

    and to think one of towns Troup recites was recently leveled by a tornado.

  3. Paco Malo says:

    This is the first time I ever heard Bobby Troup’s original of Route 66 — way cool. Now I understand why my ex-wife had such a distaste for the Stones’ cover I cherished.

    Being a travelin’ man, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for songs that tap into the seemingly infinite variety of American town names. My favorite masters of this art are Woody Guthrie, Troup and Johnny Cash, in that order. Oh, and Lowell George gets an honorable mention for Willin’.

  4. […] history. It was written sometime during World War II by Bobby Troup – who was mentioned here a while back in connection with his writing “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” – and became a big-band and pop […]

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