1955 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
The Rock Era dawns with “Rock Around the Clock” and whitewashed R&B as grownups go nuts for hi-fi and Mambo, Mitch Miller continues scoring and Sinatra returns.
Welcome! This is The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we do a deep dive into a year in Pop music and count down the top ten songs according to our recap of the weekly Pop charts published at the time in Billboard magazine, the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority. This week we’re turning the clock back to 1955, the year Marty McFly returns to in the 1985 time travel movie Back to the Future, and the year the first Rock ‘n Roll song, “Rock Around the Clock,” hit #1 on a Billboard Pop chart.
Before the Hot100 streamlined things in 1958, there were three different Billboard Pop charts: Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played in Juke Boxes and Most Played by Disc Jockeys. Bill Haley & The Comets’ so-called “first rock ‘n roll song” first hit #1 on the Best Sellers chart the week of July 9, 1955, then topped the Jukebox and DJ charts over the next couple weeks, finally winning Billboard’s “Triple Crown” in the August 6 issue when it was #1 on all three simultaneously.
Now I say “so-called first rock ‘n roll song” because over on Billboard’s R&B chart, there were lots of Black R&B records all the way back to the mid ’40s that had that same beat, sound and attitude. Rock ‘n Roll, you could even say, was the sound of black America in those pre-Elvis years, when the Pop charts (by contrast) were dominated by Crooners, Pop singers, Hollywood and Broadway Show Tunes, and Mitch Miller’s gimmicky Novelty productions. Notably absent from the Pop charts in the early ’50s? Anything kids could dance to.
Mambo sparked an adult Dance craze that made a few Cuban bandleaders famous and had the top Crooners and Pop Singers all cutting Mambo records, but besides that, you have to go back more than ten years to the early ’40s, the World War 2 years before a 40% federal cabaret tax on dancing establishments, plus wartime gas and tire rationing, the draft, and a two-year musicians’ strike hit Big Band Swing like a wrecking ball to find the last time upbeat Dance music was big on the charts.
So no wonder that in 1951, when DJ Alan Freed started playing R&B records for the first time on a powerful radio station, Cleveland’s WJW, it caught on, especially with the up and coming generation of young White people, who’d never even been exposed to this kind of music before, or really anything like it, so it was dangerous and exciting. And Freed totally played that up, treating his overnight audience of Silent Generation teens with flashlights under their blankets like some kind of secret Hipster society, which he dubbed “The Moondoggers.”
By ’54, Alan Freed was on a 50,000-watt station in New York, WINS, and R&B was the new wellspring of energy and ideas in Pop. White Crooner Johnny Ray had become a proto-Teen Idol star with his R&B-style emotive ballads, but the point of no return was “Sh-Boom,” an indie record by a Black Doo-Wop group from the Bronx (The Chords) that cracked the top ten on both the Pop Jukebox and Sales charts with barely any radio support at all in July 1954, followed just a week later by the major label cover version by The Crew-Cuts, a White Canadian vocal group, that hit #1 on all three Billboard pop charts for four weeks.
#10 “Tennessee” Ernie Ford or Bill Hayes – The Ballad of Davy Crockett
And then there was TV. AT&T completed the first coast-to-coast cable system for live broadcasts in 1955, and the number of American homes with a TV set passed two-thirds. TV was about to become a huge vehicle for Rock ‘n Roll and Teen music, but the first TV-ignited mass-cultural hysteria gripped those same kids when they were even younger, via Walt Disney’s five-part miniseries about an American folk hero from Tennessee who opposed Andrew Jackson’s Indian Relocation policies in the 1820s as a Congressman and died defending the Alamo.
The show put four different versions of its theme song on the Pop charts making it the #3 song of the year. Until 1963, Billboard actually had a chart that ranked songs just by their titles with all recorded versions combined, and factoring sheet music sales: the “Honor Roll of Hits.” So if we were counting down songs, it’d be #3. But counting down records, at #10 is the one version of the four that snagged Billboard’s “Triple Crown” when it hit #1 on all three disc charts (Sales, Airplay and Jukeboxes) on April 23. Here’s “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”
“Ballad of Davy Crockett,” the #10 song of 1955 according to our exclusive ranking here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Again, four different versions of that song on the charts during the Crockett Craze inspired by Disney’s Davy Crockett miniseries that aired December ’54 to February ’55.
If you’re streaming the podcast version of the show on Spotify, you heard Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version that was #5 for four weeks in May on the Jukebox chart. But the most successful version (and the one you just heard if you’re listening on radio) was the one that producer Archie Bleyer cut with singer Bill Hayes, which is not on Spotify.
Before the miniseries aired, Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, had been shopping around a version of “Ballad” sung by the actor who played Crockett, Fess Parker. But it was nothing like the one kids heard in the actual show sung by Folk group The Wellingtons, so after watching on TV, Bleyer had Bill Hayes in the studio the next day. After it started shooting up the charts, Columbia snapped up the Fess Parker version, but neither it or the Tennessee Ernie version on Capitol could overtake Hayes’. All the versions peaked in May and June of ’55, when Disney’s repackaged wide-screen Technicolor feature version of the miniseries was in theaters, and every boy in America was walking around in a Davy Crockett coonskin tail hat!
#9 Roger Williams – Autumn Leaves
So Rock ‘n Roll’s opening salvo on the Pop charts came in the Summer, soon after that burst of Davy Crockett mania, the one-two punch of “Rock Around the Clock” followed by Pat Boone’s version of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame.”
After that, Rock percolated under the radar for a few months while the top of the Pop charts got very conservative, as if a horrified public was recoiling at what it’d just heard and needed a “safe space.” Well that’s one way to look at it, but at the same time, an obsession was budding among grownups: hi-fi: newly-minted home audio enthusiasts gearing up their swanky mid-century living rooms with all the cutting edge equipment that was coming out, and buying records that would make that gear sound like the money it cost.
At #9 is one that topped the Best Sellers chart in those months as the weather got colder, not the DJ or Jukebox charts, just Best Sellers, which is telling. It’s pianist Roger Williams’ unique instrumental take on what was already a familiar standard, having been recorded by many top artists since its appearance in 1945. Appropriately titled for when it was a hit on the calendar, “Autumn Leaves.”
Imagine for a moment that you’ve never in your life heard recorded music sound good before. In the ’40s when American Federation of Musicians president James C. Petrillo railed against “canned music” during the AFM’s musicians’ strikes against record companies, people knew exactly what he was talking about. With 78 rpm shellac records, even when they were played on the radio, listeners could easily tell that it wasn’t a live performance.
Well, starting in the early ’50s thanks to vinyl, there was a quantum leap in sound quality, on radio, yes, but even right in your own living room, thanks to all-American hi-fi brands like Marantz, Bogen, Jenson, Fairchild, National, McIntosh, Sonotone, Fisher, H.H. Scott, along with British imports Garard, Goodman and Quad, and a flurry of startup hi-fi mags that appeared overnight to collect their money for full-page ads.
Hi-fi shops opened in every city, where you could go and hear this new miracle of modernity for yourself. Then, having made what was by no means an insignificant investment, you needed a record like “Autumn Leaves,” lushly orchestrated instrumental hits that defined a whole new genre, Easy Listening.
Classical, by far the top genre for audiophiles, but Roger Williams’s innovative descending scales and arpeggios at the piano representing the random falling and blowing of leaves in Autumn scratched that itch too: #9 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1955, the only piano instrumental ever to hit #1 on a Billboard chart. Williams scored big again in 1966 with his instrumental and chorus rendition of “Born Free.”
#8 The Four Lads – Moments to Remember
Now I mentioned The Crew-Cuts in the intro: the Canadian vocal quartet who scored in 1954 with their cover of The Chords’ “Sh-Boom.” Well the two founding members of The Crew Cuts got their start singing in a quartet with two of the founding members of the group with our #8 song. All of ’em were alumni of St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto.
In 1951, Mitch Miller, Columbia’s powerful head of A&R, signed them to sing backup on what became Johnnie Ray’s breakthrough hit, “Cry.” After charting three top tens in rapid succession with Ray, they started headlining their own records, and by ’55 they’d charted nine of ’em. But this was the biggest of their career. The song, written specifically for Crooner Perry Como, but he passed on it and The Four Lads got it. #8: “Moments to Remember.”
The Four Lads “Moments to Remember,” #8 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1955. These clean-cut collegiate foursomes were quite a phenomenon in the ’50s: Four Lads, Four Coins, Four Freshmen, Four Preps, and the biggest of them all still to come in our countdown. It can get confusing!
The Four Lads followed up “Moments” with two more top-five hits heading into ’56, then two more in ’57. After that the hits dried up and Columbia didn’t renew their contract, but they continued to release records on various labels, and even dented the Easy Listening chart a couple times in the late ’60s.
#7 The Chordettes – Mr. Sandman
At #7, a song that has become a symbol of mid-’50s innocence, maybe even innocence itself, thanks to its appearance in dozens of movies and TV shows since for that express purpose. It’s often used in a jarringly ironic way, like in Deadpool or the first film to use it, 1981’s Halloween 2, but sometimes just to anchor the viewer to the time and place that produced it: mid-’50s America.
Given how ubiquitous it’s been since the ’50s, people are surprised when they look it up and see it at a middling #18 on Billboard’s 1955 year-end Best Sellers chart, which is what you’ll likely find if you do a search for “top songs of 1955” on the Web. But it’s one of the many records throughout chart history that peaked over the holidays, so Billboard split its ranking points between two different years. Counting its full chart run including its weeks in late 1954, however, as we do for every song here at Chartcrush, it’s #7. It topped at least one of Billboard’s three charts for nine straight weeks, Thanksgiving ’54 to the end of January ’55, here are The Chordettes, “Mr. Sandman.”
Chordettes, “Mr. Sandman,” the #7 song of 1955 according to our exclusive Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show ranking tabulated from positions on all three of Billboard’s weekly Pop charts before the Hot100 debuted in late 1958: Best Sellers, Radio Airplay and Jukebox Plays.
It’s the second of the two hits in our countdown produced by Archie Bleyer, the guy behind the hit version of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” That’s Bleyer himself doing the hands-on-knees percussion and saying “Yes?” in the third verse. Both “Sandman” and “Davy Crockett” were on the label Bleyer founded and ran, Cadence Records, which later launched The Everly Brothers.
#6 “Tennessee” Ernie Ford – Sixteen Tons
So like Black R&B, Country-Western (or “Hillbilly Folk,” as it was also called) has had an on-again/off-again flirtation with the Pop mainstream over the decades. Things got interesting, though, after Singing Bandleader Vaughn Monroe scored 1949’s runaway smash Pop hit with a Western song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend).”
Within weeks of that, Mitch Miller, then at Mercury, had Crooner Frankie Laine singing rugged Western songs like “Lucky Old Sun” and “Mule Train,” and Capitol put out the first of Pop Singer Margaret Whiting’s many duets with Singing Cowboy Jimmy Wakeley, a cover of Honky Tonker Floyd Tillman’s adultery song “Slippin’ Around.” Decca’s Gordon Jenkins signed New York Folk group The Weavers, and “Goodnight Irene” was one of the top hits of 1950, and then the mic drop when Mitch Miller, now at Columbia, paired Italian Crooner Tony Bennett with Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart.”
Meanwhile in San Bernardino, California, a morning DJ doing a Country show forged a crazy, over-the-top Hillbilly persona and parlayed that into a deal with Capitol and multiple hits, including four twangy Whiting & Wakely-inspired duets with Pop Singer Kay Starr. By the end of ’55 when our #6 record hit, he was on national TV hosting Ozark Jubilee on ABC (the first national show that featured country music), plus a quiz show and a recurring role as country bumpkin Cousin Ernie on I Love Lucy. He only recorded the song after Capitol gently reminded him in the midst of all that TV glory that he still had a disc left on his contract. And it was issued a “B” side. But DJs played it and made it his biggest hit and signature tune, #1 for six weeks in December into January ’56, and also the #1 Best Seller on the Country chart for ten weeks. It’s Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.”
An ode to coal miners who were paid in scrip that was only good at the store owned by the mining company: “Sixteen Tons,” Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version, the #6 song in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1955, first recorded in 1946 by the Kentucky Songwriter who wrote it, Merle Travis.
#5 The Four Aces featuring Al Alberts – Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
So back at #8 when we heard The Four Lads’ “Moments to Remember,” I ran down the list of all the clean-cut, fresh-faced male collegiate-styled foursomes that charted hits in the mid ’50s. At #5 is the biggest of ’em, and it was their version of “Mr. Sandman,” not the Chordettes’, that soundtracked the scene in Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly first sees his hometown in 1955 after travelling back in time in Doc Brown’s souped-up DeLorean.
But they were best known for majestic, cinematic-sounding versions of title songs from blockbuster movies. Their version of “Three Coins in the Fountain” out-charted the one in the movie sung by Frank Sinatra in ’54. And then in ’55, their biggest hit was another cover version of an Oscar winning theme from a epic technicolor Hollywood romance film, this one starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones. And it did even better than “Three Coins.” #1 for the six weeks in October and November right before “Sixteen Tons, it’s The Four Aces featuring lead singer Al Alberts: “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.”
In all The Four Aces scored ten top tens between ’51 and ’55, culminating with the #5 song in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1955, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” later used as the theme of a CBS daytime soap opera that ran from the late ’60s into the early ’70s also called, yep, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.
#4 Mitch Miller and His Orchestra and Chorus – The Yellow Rose of Texas
Now at #4, a traditional folk song, well known in Texas and the South, that dates back to at least the 1850s. But according to a Billboard piece from when the song was #1 on the charts, it first resurfaced in the 1950s as part of a songbook published by the copyright-clearance organization BMI, Songs of the Confederacy.
The book inspired a Columbia Records album that collected Confederate marching songs, and a companion album compiled Union songs. Columbia’s President at the time, Goddard Lieberson: a big Civil War buff. Well, that project, in turn, inspired one of Lieberson’s subordinates, again, Mitch Miller, Columbia’s A&R head but also a bandleader himself, to do a re-worked version of one of the Confederate marching songs on Columbia’s The Confederacy album, and it turned out to be the record that dethroned “Rock Around the Clock” from the top of the Best Sellers chart, staying at #1 for six weeks and becoming the #4 song of 1955. Here is Mitch Miller headlining his own record, leading His Orchestra and Chorus: “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
A folksier version of “Yellow Rose of Texas” by singer Johnny Desmond was also a hit on the Pop DJ and Jukebox charts in 1955. And a version by Ernest Tubb on the Country charts. But Mitch Miller’s more military-sounding version we just heard came out on top and was the #4 record of the year.
Okay, so let’s break this down: a Confederate marching song, a year after the Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, but Southern states and cities fighting those rulings throughout 1955, and the Civil Rights movement on the ground barely underway. Rosa Parks didn’t stay in her seat on that bus in Alabama until December 1955. So in the middle of all that, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” shoots to #1 on the Pop charts for six straight weeks in the Fall: a Confederate marching song.
Not to question Columbia Records or Mitch Miller’s motives for making the record, but it seems like the song’s huge popularity once it was out there in the wild might’ve had more than a little to do with the backlash against Civil Rights. As an October 1955 Billboard article reported though: since the Davy Crockett phenomenon in the Spring, “pioneer-type material” was all the rage, and “Yellow Rose” was just the latest in a string of hits in that mold. So that was another factor. But always fascinating to look at these song rankings in the context of when the songs were popular, and what else was happening in the world.
The political overtones weren’t lost on the pop culture at the time. Satirist Stan Freberg put a send-up of “Yellow Rose” on the charts (also in ’55) that opens with a rebel yell by the heavily-accented singer, whose irritation at the snare drummer for playing too loud increases until he finds out that the drummer is a Yankee and threatens to secede from the band “so help me Mitch Miller.”
#3 The McGuire Sisters – Sincerely
At #3 in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1955 is a Girl Group whose first charting single entered the charts literally the same week as The Crew-Cuts “Sh-Boom” in July of ’54, and it too was a Pop cover of a song by a Black Doo-Wop group, The Spaniels’ “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.” It didn’t do nearly as well as “Sh-Boom,” but then in ’55 they offered up this sublime reinterpretation of a Doo-Wop song by future Motown co-founder, executive and Marvin Gaye mentor Harvey Fuqua. His group The Moonglows had taken it to #1 on the R&B Jukebox chart in December ’54; then The McGuire Sisters (Ruby, Dottie and Phyllis) made it their first #1 Pop hit in early ’55: “Sincerely.”
Billboard’s #1 Best Seller for six weeks, but it topped the DJ chart for ten weeks, mid-February to mid-April, pre-Davy Crockett and “Rock Around the Clock:” The McGuire Sisters’ “Sincerely,” #3 as we count down the biggest hits of 1955 here on The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
The McGuire Sisters scored another #1 in ’57 with “Sugartime” and continued into the 1960s, but stopped performing in the late ’60s, because Phyllis, the middle girl and soloist in the group, got mixed up romantically with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. And there was a trial and Phyllis had to testify, so it was all very public and a big scandal. But they got back together in ’86, still looking and sounding great, for a series of nostalgic nightclub engagements in Vegas, New York, Atlantic City, et cetera.
#2 Bill Haley & His Comets – (We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock
And that brings us to the #2 song on our countdown. I’ve been talking about it since the start of the show because it’s the most important song of 1955. On July 9, it became the very first Rock ‘n Roll record to reach #1 on the Billboard Pop chart. And it stayed at #1 for eight weeks: our #2 record of the year: Bill Haley and His Comets, “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock.”
Record jobbers and retailers were telling Billboard in 1955 that they’d never seen anything like the way “Rock Around the Clock” was selling. And lots of people had never heard anything like it either. A reviewer who saw a show in Chicago wrote that Haley & The Comets “are masters of mob psychology and mass hysteria, building slow but hard, and by the time they hit their last three numbers, there’s hardly a member of the audience, young or old, who isn’t keeping cadence clapping and foot stomping.” So there’s a data point for you: clapping and foot stomping equaled mass hysteria in Chicago in 1955.
Now over in the U.K., audiences were more demonstrative: fights and riots broke out in theaters showing the movie that introduced “Rock Around the Clock” to a mass audience in the opening credits: Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier, about juvenile delinquency in urban schools. Suffice it to say, Rock ‘n Roll started off with a big bang heard around the world on the Pop charts, and music was never the same. Bill Haley & The Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock:” the #2 song of 1955.
#1 Pérez Prado – Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White
But it wasn’t #1. And that brings us to the other big Pop music story in ’54 and ’55: Mambo: the fusion of swing and Cuban music. And the artist at #1 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1955 is the guy who introduced mambo in 1951 at the Tropicana Hotel in Havana. He also put out an album that year, Mambo-Jambo, and sparked a dance craze that continued through the ’50s.
So while the kiddos were dancing again to R&B and Rock ‘n Roll, grownups were signing up in droves at Arthur Murray Dance Studios, learning the rhumba box step (and other Latin dances). And buying records like our song at #1. It’s Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.”
Pérez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White:” Billboard’s #1 Best Selling record of 1955, #1 on its year-end Jukebox chart too. Radio DJs though? Not as enthusiastic: #7 on that one. And it was by no means the end of Prado’s impressive career on the Pop charts: he was back in 1958 with “Patricia.”
And speaking of I Love Lucy (the #1 show in America in 1955 with over 15 million viewers, which is half of the households with TVs), in its fourth and fifth seasons. Lucy’s husband Ricky Ricardo, of course, a Cuban bandleader, who it’d be reasonable to assume was modeled after a guy like Prado. But not so. It’s actually the other way around. Desi Arnaz, who played Ricky and was Lucille Ball’s real-life husband: also a Cuban bandleader in real life. A protégé of the original Latin bandleader, Xavier Cugat in the 1940s, when Prado was still tickling the ivories in Cuba. Not to diminish Prado’s achievements or title as the Mambo King at all, but I Love Lucy premiered on TV the same year that first Prado album came out: 1951.
So, that’s our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1955, but we’re not quite done. As I’ve been mentioning throughout the show, Billboard had three separate survey-based Pop charts in 1955 to rank songs by Record Sales, Radio Airplay and Jukebox Plays. Well at Chartcrush, for pre-Hot100 years like 1955, we merge the three into a single combined weekly chart, and then get our rankings for the year the same way we do Hot100 years, factoring every song’s full chart run so a song like, say, “Sixteen Tons” that spanned ’55 into ’56 doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as so often happens with Billboard’s year-end rankings based on discrete “chart year” time windows.
Well when you use our Chartcrush mojo for the individual charts (Sales, Airplay and Jukeboxes), there are songs that come out in the top ten on the year on one chart but not the others. I mentioned that Prado’s “Cherry Pink” didn’t do as well on the Airplay chart as Sales and Jukeboxes, for example. That one was strong enough on two of the charts, though, that its still the #1 song of the year in the ranking from the combined chart. Others, though? Not so lucky! And there are six of those. A ragtime piano medley was the #10 Jukebox hit of the year.
Pianist Johnny Maddox’s version of a medley originally by “Der Schrage Otto” (“Crazy Otto”), a German comedian, big on Jukeboxes, but radio in 1955 didn’t know what to do with that song, #36 on that ranking. It comes out #20 on our combined ranking.
The #5 hit of the year on Jukeboxes is only #19 on both the DJ and Best Sellers rankings.
Georgia Gibbs’ “Dance with Me Henry,” a cover of Etta James’ “The Wallflower” that was a #1 hit on the R&B chart, but too risqué for the Pop mainstream in ’55. Etta’s original says “Roll with Me, Henry.” Gasp!
Gibbs, a White singer, had just scored with another R&B cover, of Black Chicago singer LaVern Baker’s “Tweedle Dee,” prompting Baker to sarcastically name Georgia Gibbs the beneficiary on a supplemental life insurance policy she took out before a flight to Australia, saying “you need this more than I do because if anything happens to me, you’re out of business!” “Dance with Me Henry,” #17 on our combined ranking for the year.
Yet another cover of an R&B hit by a White artist was among the top ten Jukebox hits of the year.
The Fontane Sisters cover of Otis Williams & The Charms’ “Hearts of Stone,” a #1 R&B hit in late ’54 that actually did cross over to the Pop Bestsellers chart in January, before the Fontanes version overtook it the following month. Dot Records co-founder Randy Wood, the guy who relaunched the Sisters as a teen-targeted Girl Group doing R&B covers after poaching them from RCA-Victor when the well ran dry on their string of hits with Crooner Perry Como in ’49 and ’50. Wood, taking his cue from the success of Mercury’s Crew Cuts covering The Charms’ crossover Doo-Wop hit “Sh-Boom” in ’54.
The reasoning was that, notwithstanding Alan Freed, big radio just was gonna play most R&B records no matter how much the kids wanted to hear them. Because racism, yes, but also for the same reason they wouldn’t play most Country records: just too unpolished sounding alongside Crooners and lushly-orchestrated Hollywood hits. So Dot and many other labels got White artists to record covers of R&B hits, completely reinventing them for a mainstream Pop audience. “Hearts of Stone,” another massive Jukebox hit that’s not among the top ten Sales or Airplay hits of the year, so it notches in at #14 in our combined ranking.
But Dot’s greatest success of ’55 was what’s since come to be regarded as the ultimate “Whitewashed” R&B hit.
Yet another Jukebox hit that didn’t do quite as well on radio and in stores: Pat Boone’s cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” a very respectable #13 on our combined ranking.
Domino didn’t harbor any ill will towards Boone for stealing his chart thunder. His original, also a top ten Jukebox hit in ’55 (his first of over 60 chart hits from ’55 to ’68). But as the songwriter, he collected royalties on Boone’s version and bought himself a big piano shaped diamond ring, which he showed off at gigs and told the crowd, “Pat Boone bought me this ring with this song” introducing “Ain’t That a Shame.”
So those are all the hits that were among the top ten Jukebox hits of the year but didn’t make the top ten when combined with Sales and Airplay. Next, the #8 song of the year on the radio Airwaves that missed the top ten on Jukeboxes and in record shops. Radio has always had a special place in its heart for Frank Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra’s comeback to the top of the charts after his messy divorce from Ava Gardner and slumping badly in the late ’40s and early ’50s (ironically right at the height of the Crooner era), “Learnin’ the Blues,” Sinatra’s first #1 on any chart since 1947.
In ’55 he had a new label (Capitol), a new bandleader, arranger and collaborator (Nelson Riddle), a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (for From Here to Eternity) under his belt, and a new sound that updated Swing Jazz for the Rock era. Despite the misfortune of being a hit at the same time as “Rock Around the Clock,” “Learnin'” peaked at #2 (by our combined ranking) for five of the weeks Bill Haley was #1 in July and August. It just narrowly misses our combined top ten at #12 on the year.
And finally, the biggest hit version of a song that’s been recorded over 1,500 times since it first appeared in 1955, and with three records of it making the top ten, it was the #1 song of 1955 combining all versions. Like our #9 hit, Roger Williams’s “Autumn Leaves,” it did best on the Best Sellers chart: a perfect record for all the new audiophiles buying their first hi-fi sets. But while “Autumn Leaves” was also a big Jukebox hit; this one, not so much, #20 on the Jukebox ranking.
Band- and chorus leader Les Baxter’s “Unchained Melody,” numbers 7 and 10 on the yearly DJ and Sales rankings, respectively, which makes it the #11 song on our combined Chartcrush ranking for ’55. Baxter, no stranger to the charts after backing Nat King Cole on “Mona Lisa” in 1950and “Too Young” in ’51, and on his own scoring numerous top tens in the early ’50s. And he was back with an even bigger hit in ’56, “The Poor People of Paris.” Not bad for what most folks (from about 1970 on)would dismiss as “elevator music.”
Baxter died in 1996, just as Hipster Lounge music savants were reviving his career as the gravitational center of a subgenre of Lounge called “Exotica.” Baxter’s 1951 LP Ritual of the Savage: the origin point that inspired other exotica notables like Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and Juan García Esquivel. Jet age ersatz tropical and primitive sounds for armchair explorers equipped with brand new hi-fi equipment: good stuff for your cocktail hour!
And we’re gonna have to end on that note because we are out of time! You’ve been listening to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1955 and I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to check out our website, chartcrush.com, for written transcripts and streaming links for this and other Chartcrush countdown shows, plus chart run line graphs and other nifty extras. We count down a different year every week on this show, from the beginning ofthe charts in the 1940sall the way up to the present, so come back next week, will ya?, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.