Overnight Sensation - The 60s
Each title is followed by the date of its chart debut, and the position at which the record peaked, if applicable.
"Fannie Mae," Buster Brown
February, 1960 - #38
Some may remember this one from American Graffitti, but it was a solid R&B #1 hit for the Georgia-born singer and harmonica player.
"A Closer Walk," Pete Fountain
February, 1960 - #93
A New Orleans legend, clarinetist Fountain worked with trumpeter Al Hirt in the mid-50s, and was actually one of Lawrence Welk's early TV "champagne music makers." By 1960, he had left the Welk show and was recording solo. "A Closer Walk" is one of those tunes that you'd hear at a New Orleans funeral, for example, if you've seen the footage of the folks joyously walking down the street together, in sort of a moving "wake." It is actually an instrumental adaptation of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," which was a huge country hit for Red Foley (Pat Boone's father-in-law) in 1950.
"Money (That's What I Want)," Barrett Strong
February, 1960 - #23
Strong was a Mississippi-born writer and singer, who released this tune on the Anna label; it was subsequently released on Tamla (both are connected with Motown). This one was obviously a hit in a few homes in Liverpool as well, as the Beatles performed it frequently (and recorded it) in the early years. Strong later became a co-writer (with producer Norman Whitfield) of such hits as "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" and "Ball Of Confusion."
"White Silver Sands"
March, 1960 - #9
"Don't Be Cruel"
September, 1960 - #11
The Bill Black Combo was one of many great instrumental acts that recorded on Hi Records in Memphis, Black's home town. He was the "Bill" listed on those Sun singles as "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill." Black played standup bass for Elvis from 1954-58, and launched the combo in '59.
The band had charted 18 times, including a cool cover of "Don't Be Cruel," before Bill died of a brain tumor in late '65. The band has continued through the decades, still known as the Bill Black Combo, and continued to record well into the late 70s. Among its alumni are sax player Ace Cannon (see more below) and guitarist Reggie Young, who has played a ton of fine licks on more Memphis and Nashville sessions than we can list here.
May, 1960 - #12
June, 1961 - #17
"Having A Party"
May, 1962 - #17
"Bring It On Home To Me"
June, 1962 - #13
Four great Sam Cooke tunes, among the many that the legendary gospel-turned-soul singer released. "Wonderful World" charted a couple of years later for Herman's Hermits, and in the 70s, for Art Garfunkel with James Taylor and Paul Simon.
"Cupid" has also seen its share of charted covers, from Johnny Rivers (the flip side of "Midnight Special") to Johnny Nash to Tony Orlando & Dawn (see the 70s section for more on that one) to the Spinners.
Lastly, there is the double-sided hit from '62, with "Having A Party," an easy-rolling, feel-good tune, and its flip, "Bring It On Home To Me," one of Sam's most soulful vocals. And Lou Rawls ain't half bad with the "answer" vocals, either.
March, 1960 - #22
August, 1965 - #21
(Courtesy Collectables Records)
Two fine Charlie Rich singles that should be better remembered than they are. Rich played jazz and blues, and started at Sun Records in the late 50s. He played piano on such things as Johnny Cash's last single for that label, "I Just Thought You'd Like To Know" (1958). He had a wonderfully smoky, blues-tinged voice that was best displayed on tunes such as his own "Who Will The Next Fool Be." He never had any major success at Sun, and moved along to Smash, for whom he cut "Mohair Sam," a funky, groovin' song about a real hip cat.
Rich's greatest successes came when he switched his focus to country music and moved to Epic, where he had hits in the 70s with such tunes as "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl." He could still crank out that old soul on a well-chosen cover tune, such as the 40s tune "Since I Fell For You," and on a wonderful gospel album, Silver Linings (the dramtic reading of "Milky White Way" being among the highlights).
"(I Can't Help You) I'm Falling Too," Skeeter Davis
August, 1960 - #39
Skeeter Davis, nee Mary Fenick, first recorded in the early 50s with a friend, Betty Davis, as the Davis Sisters (hence her stage name). She had major country-pop crossover hits in the early 60s with "The End Of The World" and "I Can't Stay Mad At You" (both 1963). This tune, however, preceded it, and is arguably her best single of all.
An interesting trend in 1960 was "answer" records; Jeanne Black recorded "He'll Have To Stay" as an answer to Jim Reeves' monster hit "He'll Have To Go." Skeeter's hit was an answer to Hank Locklin's hit "Please Help Me, I'm Falling." The harmonies on this record are absolutely amazing. Just beautiful.
"Let's Have A Party," Wanda Jackson
August, 1960 - #37
Wanda was another country gal, who first recorded in 1954 for Decca. She toured with Elvis in the mid-50s and apparently decided that she could rock, too. And she could, as this cover of "Party" (from Elvis' '57 film Loving You) proved. Giving this record that extra kick is the backing of Gene Vincent's Blue Caps. Among the alumni of Jackson's road band is multi-instrumentalist Roy Clark.
"Let's Think About Living," Bob Luman
September, 1960 - #7
Another rockabilly, the Texas-born Luman had his greatest pop success with this tune which took a solid jab at another trend of the era, the "death song" ("Teen Angel," "Running Bear," etc.). The song's main message was "let's think about livin', let's think about life." Luman went on to have popularity as a country singer until he lost his life in 1978.
October, 1960 - #75
"Bright Lights Big City"
September, 1961 - #58
Just a couple of the oft-recorded tunes from blues singer-guitarist-harmonica player Jimmy Reed, a 1991 inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The Mississippi-born Reed had been stricken with epilepsy since the late 50s, but continued active until his death from a seizure in 1976. The numerous covers of his tunes speak well for his distinctiveness and his influence.
"Milk Cow Blues"
December, 1960 - #79
"Fools Rush In"
September, 1963 - #12
(Courtesy Capitol Records)
Many stations pretty well forget about Rick Nelson beyond "Travelin' Man" and "Hello Mary Lou," his double-sided hit of 1961 (until you get to "Garden Party," that is). Even Nelson's lesser hits were great stuff. "Milk Cow Blues" dates back to 1935, when it was first recorded by its composer, Kokomo Arnold. Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys also performed it, as did Elvis (on Sun) and others. It's just a great song. As for "Fools Rush In," it also dates way back, to 1940 and Capt. Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Rick's nice, Latin-flavored arrangement suited it just fine and made it sound new in the 60s.
December, 1960 - #27
"Mean Woman Blues"/"Blue Bayou"
September, 1963 - #5/#29
Wanna talk about legends? Roy Orbison will do very nicely, thank you. "I'm Hurtin'" was released in between the Top 10 hits "Blue Angel" and "Running Scared." It would be difficult for anything to top "Running Scared," of course, but "I'm Hurtin'" is a better tune than its chart peak would indicate.
Roy had two major double-sided hits, the first being "Crying" and "Candy Man," and the second being the '63 single listed here. "Mean Woman Blues" was another tune first popularlized by Elvis in Loving You, and "Blue Bayou" was another one of those ballads that Roy did so well. Somebody else did that tune, years later; a female, I think ... (jus' kidding, Linda)
"Baby Sittin' Boogie," Buzz Clifford
January, 1961 - #6
One of the funniest singles of the decade, extolling the woes of putting up with a rockin' baby (the hysterical sounds were actually supplied by the producer's son and daughter). Fun.
"You Can Have Her," Roy Hamilton
January, 1961 - #12
Hamilton was a fantastic R&B singer who was a huge influence on the Righteous Brothers, among others. "You Can Have Her" was one of his coolest songs, frequently covered, as are most of the tunes he did.
"Apache," Jorgen Ingmann & His Guitar
January, 1961 - #2
The 60s were a great period for instrumentals, and you'll see several of them in this listing. This is one of many that a lot of young guitarists worked on their finger calluses with.
"Don't Worry," Marty Robbins
January, 1961 - #3
Marty Robbins could sing anything; country, rockabilly, blues, gospel, ballads, show tunes and those cowboy songs that he loved so much (and he wrote quite a few). This is one of his most talked-about singles, due to the "fuzz" guitar solo in the middle. There are a couple of different stories as to how that sound got there, but most sources credit it to a loose tube in an amplifier. In fact, Marty thought the sound was "a mistake," and insisted that the track be done over (everything was recorded live in the studio), although the producer thought that unusual sound (certainly for 1961) would help sell the record. It did, and increased its coolness factor as well.
"Peanut Butter," The Marathons
April, 1961 - #20
A little deceit was involved in this one, as Arvee Records recruited the Vibrations to record this variation of the Olympics' hit "(Baby) Hully Gully." Problem was, the Vibrations were under contract to Chess, who put a halt to the Arvee single and released their own re-recorded version on a subsidiary label, Argo. On that release, the artist credit was listed as "Vibrations Named By Others As MARATHONS." Still, it's the original release that is the coolest.
"The Boll Weevil Song," Brook Benton
May, 1961 - #2
This was an old folk song that had been revived by Tex Ritter (cowboy star, country singer and father of actor John Ritter). Brook seemed to be having a great time with it, using that lower range of his voice (as he did so well on his classic "It's Just A Matter Of Time") for emphasis. A fun record.
"Let There Be Drums," Sandy Nelson
October, 1961 - #7
(Courtesy Collectables Records)
Sander "Sandy" Nelson had been a studio drummer on some early Phil Spector productions (the Teddy Bears, for example) before forging his own career with a series of best-selling instrumental albums. This was his second Top Ten hit (the first was "Teen Beat" in '59), and it's a monster, thanks in part to a very - dare I say it - ballsy guitar part from Richard Podolor, who cowrote the song with Nelson.
Sandy actually lost his right foot in a 1963 motorcycle accident, but was soon back at the drum throne, and continued to crank out instrumental albums through the end of the decade. Richard Podolor later became a top producer, working with Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf.
"Let's Go Trippin'," Dick Dale and The Del-Tones
November, 1961 - #60
Speaking of great instrumentalists, Dale is the undisputed king of California surf guitar. His records still sound cool today.
"If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody," James Ray
November, 1961 - #22
Ray was a D.C.-born soul singer who was actually living in extreme poverty when he was discovered. He didn't have much of a chance to enjoy his new-found success, either, as he died in early '62.
December, 1961 - #17
"Blues (Stay Away From Me)"
April, 1962 - #36
Johnny "Ace" Cannon was a Mississippi-born sax player who had been an original member of the Bill Black Combo. He left Black and began recording solo for Hi Records in '61 with "Tuff," a record that is just that; it's tuff, my friend. The followup was also great, a rendition of "Blues (Stay Away From Me)," a 1949 hit for Nashville producer-to-be Owen Bradley.