1960 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
The payola scandal chills Rock on the radio and adult genres surge with LPs outselling singles, but Elvis is out of the Army and everyone’s doing “The Twist!”
Welcome to 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 the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re turning the clock back to 1960, the first year of the ’60s, but like almost every decade’s year zero, it seemed more like a continuation of the previous decade than something new.
Still, something about that “6” seemed more modern. Folks liked seeing it in print and on TV and saying “It’s the ’60s, man,” as if they’d just turned a corner and gotten their first glimpse of a New Frontier. “New Frontier,” actually the brand label for John F. Kennedy’s agenda unveiled at the Democratic convention in the Summer. And on Inauguration Day in ’61, Kennedy became the first President born in the 20th Century.
The oldest Baby Boomers turned 14 and entered High School in 1960, and no one had any idea how that tsunami was gonna break. It was America’s largest generation yet, raised up in Eisenhower’s “Affluent Society” but under the threat of nuclear annihilation. ’60s counterculture historian Theodore Roszak later called that combination “crazy-making.”
But as the decade began, hopes were high, especially now that comic books and Rock ‘n Roll, the twin scourges that got the blame for corrupting youth morals and spiking juvenile delinquency in the ’50s, had been dealt with from on high in Washington. Comic Books first: congressional hearings in ’54 that led to the Comic Magazine Association’s strict “Comics Code.”
And then in ’59, the feds’ investigation into Payola became the tip of the spear in the battle against Rock ‘n Roll. Payola: when DJs take cash or gifts to play records on the air. It was widespread, and not just with Rock ‘n Roll, but for years, the blue-chip copyright clearance organization ASCAP had been complaining to feds about the preponderance of songs handled by rival licensor BMI on radio. BMI rep’d most R&B, Country and Rock ‘n Roll songwriters because ASCAP wouldn’t. And eventually, the investigation zeroed in on payola, with House Judiciary chairman Emmanuel Celler blaming payola for the “popularity of this cacophonous music called Rock ‘n Roll.”
Celler’s anti-payola legislation passed in the Spring, but radio had already started cleaning house. Even one of the nation’s top DJs, Alan Freed, got the axe: the “King of the Moondoggers:” the guy who coined the phrase “Rock ‘n Roll” in the early ’50s. After that, Program Directors and playlists were the rule in radio, and many stations stopped playing Rock altogether. WINS in New York played Frank Sinatra for three days straight.
Rock, already reeling from losing Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper in that plane crash in Iowa in ’59: Don McLean’s “the day the music died” from “American Pie.” Plus Elvis drafted; Chuck Berry in legal hot water; Little Richard now a preacher; and Jerry Lee Lewis, a pariah after marrying his 13 year old cousin.
And on top of all that, for the first time in 1959, albums sold more than Rock’s format, the 45 r.p.m. single. Stereo was here and Sears-Roebuck now had affordable plug-n-play hi-fi systems in their catalog and stores. But Rock albums didn’t sell: not one among the top ten albums of 1960, but lots of Soundtracks, Jazz, Easy Listening and Rat Packers. Comedy albums were outselling Rock. So with that in play, labels scrambled to produce more sophisticated-sounding singles: quality songs with strings and choruses. And not just Pop and Rock, but Country and R&B too: everyone looking to polish up their studio game, and New York’s “Brill Building” songwriting factory churning out Teen-targeted songs full-time, ready for the latest photogenic Teen Idol to record.
#10 Connie Francis – Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool
At #10, a record that definitely shows some of that Early ’60s “Brill Building Pop” polish, but it’s more notable for being the first by a solo female to top the Hot100, which, granted, had only existed less than two years, but still a milestone. Her album of songs sung mostly in Italian was out and on its way to becoming her bestselling career LP, so the label, MGM, put “Jealous of You (Tango Della Gelosia),” on the A-side, and it too cracked the Top 20, but this song on the B-side went all the way to #1. Kicking off our 1960 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show at #10, it’s Newark, New Jersey’s own Connie Francis, born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”
#10 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown, voted #1 female Singer by American Bandstand viewers four years running, and the #1 Hot100 Artist of the Year adding up all nine of her charting records for 1960, Connie Francis, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” It was the first of her three career #1’s, on top for two weeks, June into July, and her very next single was her second, “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” in September.
#9 Marty Robbins – El Paso
Now, the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” in ’58 and then the first Newport Folk Festival in ’59 crystallized Folk as its own genre, headquartered in the Northeast, San Francisco and college town coffee shops all in between, with an upscale, urban hipster fan base.
Our Singer at #9, originally from Arizona and one of the top Country acts of all-time, had already crossed over to the Pop charts with his version of “Singing the Blues” in ’56 (recorded before Guy Mitchell’s), and then a Teen-targeted Rockabillyish number, “A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation).” But in ’59 he was all about getting back to his Western roots with a labor-of-love album project entitled Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.
He figured might sell 500, give-or-take, if he was lucky. But his label, Columbia, and his producer, Don Law (who was the head of Columbia’s Country division) disagreed and thought this cut from the album could be a hit. With good reason! “Tom Dooley” had started out as just an album cut but was in the top ten for 12 weeks after Capitol put it out as a single in ’58. And then folksy story songs like Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans,” Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo,” The Browns’ “Three Bells” were all major hits in ’59. So Columbia followed suit, and despite our gunfighter ballad at #9 being over four and half minutes, it became the very first #1 of the ’60s. An edit omitting a verse was on the flip-side of the promo 45 for radio stations that had a problem with the length, but most didn’t and played the full version of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.”
Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” #9 as we count down the top ten songs of 1960 here on this week’s edition of Chartcrush. The Spanish guitar on that record, played by Nashville session man Grady Martin, who, on another Marty Robbins record later in 1960, accidentally invented fuzztone, the guitar effect made famous on the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” A transformer in the studio’s console malfunctioned on his solo for Robbins’ “Don’t Worry,” and when they played back the tape, they liked what they heard, so they kept it, and a couple of the studio engineers went to work inventing the effects pedal that eventually evolved into Gibson’s Maestro Fuzztone.
#8 Elvis Presley – Stuck on You
OK, so let’s say you’re the guy who personified Rock ‘n Roll for two years, but then you got drafted for the next two years, and now that you’re back, things have changed. Singles aren’t selling as well, but even worse: now there’s a mainstream consensus that Rock ‘n Roll is corrupt, subversive and artless, and measures have been taken to reign it in. Laws are being passed. People are getting fired and in some cases, even fined and prosecuted! But still, you have 50 million fans who love you and your music, and getting you back from Uncle Sam the first good news they’ve had in a long time. Some of them stand for hours in a blizzard at an Air Force Base in New Jersey just to get a look at you. And then, from there, they mob all the stops on your train route home to Memphis.
If you’re that guy, obviously, one of the first things you do is get yourself into a recording studio, and once you’re there you cut a new Rock ‘n Roll song. Yeah, you pull your punches a bit (don’t wanna scare anyone, especially in this climate!). But you deliver a solid Rock song because that’s what your fans expect. And after that you turn to Italian Opera! But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. At #8, the Rock song Elvis Presley cut his first week back in the studio after his discharge, which hit the charts in April, a month after he returned, and is the first of his two singles in our 1960 Chartcrush Top Ten countdown: “Stuck on You.”
“Stuck on You,” Elvis Presley’s first hit after returning from military service in Germany, #1 in its fourth week on the chart and our #8 song, here on our 1960 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. It was a single-only release, not on his 1960 album, which was titled, what else? Elvis Is Back. Which was the bestselling Rock ‘n Roll album of 1960, but again, Rock fans weren’t buying LPs yet in 1960, so it’s only #16 on our 1960 album ranking, and the only Rock album among the top 50 albums of the year.
#7 Chubby Checker – The Twist
Elvis’s other major 1960 hit was in the Fall. We’ll be hearing that one later but spoiler alert: it’s not a Rocker. Rock fans did get another big treat before the year was out, though, and that’s our #7 song: the record that launched a string of Teen dance crazes that continued until The Beatles and beyond.
It’s a guy who was first noticed entertaining customers while plucking chickens at a South Philly poultry shop. His big break came when R&B group Hank Ballard & The Midnighters were unable to appear on the wildly popular live after-school TV show American Bandstand to do the upbeat B-side of their weepy Ballad “Teardrops on Your Letter” that’d just made the charts and was causing a buzz. So Bandstand host Dick Clark needed a stand-in do a cover, and the local chicken plucker who’d been doing it in his nightclub act on the Jersey shore that Summer, was perfect.
Ballard had written it after seeing kids doing the unusual hip-swivel dance in Tampa, but it was Chubby Checker who got all the glory after lip-syncing to his just-issued record of it on Bandstand and on Dick Clark’s primetime Saturday night Beech Nut show on ABC. At #7, “The Twist.”
American Bandstand out of Philadelphia had been driving songs to the top of the charts since going national on the ABC network in 1957 in its 3:30 PM timeslot. Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” just the latest in the Summer of 1960, #7 here on our 1960 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.
Dick Clark managed to survive the payola scandal by separating himself from other music-adjacent businesses he’d been a stakeholder in, and just being deferential and respectful in the Congressional hearings, unlike the fast-talking, chain-smoking Alan Freed, who destroyed his career.
“The Twist” helped shake Rock ‘n Roll from its post-payola doldrums in ’60, but then in late ’61 it caught on again after society pages reported on celebs and notables doing the dance in New York’s Peppermint Lounge and other niteries, whereupon it re-entered the charts after nearly a year for an even stronger run than in 1960. It’s the only record in Pop history to get to #1 a second time after dropping off the chart and re-entering.
Hank Ballard’s original of “The Twist,” which Checker copied to a “t”, did okay too, but not as well as Ballard and his Midnighters’ two other top tens in 1960: “It’s Finger Poppin’ Time” just as “The Twist” was breaking out, and then “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” in the Fall.
#6 Johnny Preston – Running Bear
So at #9 we heard the first “story song” in our 1960 countdown, Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.” At #6 is the other, which was ready to go in early 1959, but the label, Mercury, held it back ’til the end of the year after the guy who wrote it, J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. “The Big Bopper” of “Chantilly Lace” fame, was killed in the same early February ’59 plane crash in Iowa as Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. And Richardson didn’t just write the song, he discovered the Singer, playing in a club in Texas with his band. #1 for three weeks in January right after “El Paso,” at #6, it’s Johnny Preston revising Romeo & Juliet on “Running Bear.”
Many of the cover versions of “Running Bear” over the years from George Jones to The Guess Who have used some version of the “ooga chaka” Indian chant from Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear,” the #6 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. But in 1971, British Singer-Songwriter Jonathan King used it in his cover of B.J. Thomas’s hit “Hooked on a Feeling.” Why King thought that was a good idea? Unknown. But a few years later, Swedish Pop Group Blue Swede scored a #1 hit with a cover of King’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling,” complete with “ooga chaka’s.”
#5 Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown
At #5 is the biggest-selling single by the most successful duo in Pop history, until Daryl Hall & John Oates overtook them in the ’80s. Future Rock legends who were in their teens in the early ’60s, from Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, cite the duo’s close two-part harmonies as not just an influence, but one of the reasons they got into music at all in the first place.
After their one single for Columbia Records flopped in 1956 and they were dropped, they went on to be the top act on Archie Bleyer’s indie Cadence Records with a string of eight top tens from ’57 to early ’60. This was their first record on startup Warner Brothers Records after being wooed away from Cadence with a lucrative contract. And it didn’t disappoint: the best-selling single of their career, #1 for five weeks in May and the #5 song here on our 1960 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, it’s The Everly Brothers, “Cathy’s Clown.”
#5 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1960’s top hits, The Everly Brothers, Phil and Don, who wrote it, “Cathy’s Clown.” The Everlys had six more top tens ’60 to ’62 but no more #1s. In 1984, Paul McCartney repaid the favor of being one of The Beatles’ top influences in their formative years, writing “On the Wings of a Nightingale” for them and playing guitar. That record got them their first Hot100 entry since 1967, peaking at #50.
#4 Jim Reeves – He’ll Have to Go
Our #4 song was a massive Country crossover hit, but more than that, it was vindication for Nashville’s push in the late ’50s and early ’60s to make Country records that appealed broadly enough to make the Pop charts on their own, as they were recorded in Nashville by Country artists, as opposed to, for example, Columbia’s A&R head Mitch Miller giving Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” to Tony Bennett, and scoring a #1 Pop hit with the song.
The smooth, strings-n-choruses so-called “Nashville sound” (or “Countrypolitan”) ruled the Country charts all the way into the ’70s. And “Country wearing city clothes,” as Time described it in 1960, produced many more crossover smashes. Berry Gordy, Jr., just getting Motown up and running in 1960, did the same thing with R&B. #1 on the Country chart for 14 straight weeks and in the top ten on the Hot100 for 12, here’s Countrypolitan’s “proof of concept” hit. It’s Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go.”
Now I don’t know too many men after, say, 1990 (and that includes men singing Country songs) who would continue the conversation if they heard another guy while on the phone with their lady. But in 1960, Gentleman Jim Reeves, who traded cowboy outfits for suits and ties pretty early in his career, was still giving her the benefit of the doubt.
Sadly, Reeves died in a plane crash in 1964, but he left behind a ton of unreleased stuff, and RCA continued putting out Jim Reeves singles for another 20 years. His last top ten on the Country chart was in 1982!
#3 Brenda Lee – I’m Sorry
Now the late ’50s were lean years for the ladies at the top of the charts. From Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind” in mid-1956 to Connie Francis’ “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” we heard at #10 in mid-’60, only two songs with female lead vocals got to #1: Debbie Reynolds’ “Tammy” in ’57 and The Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is to Love Him” sung by Carol Connors in ’58.
But not only was Connie Francis 1960’s top Hot100 act all charting singles combined; another female who’d just made her chart debut in late ’59 was the year’s second biggest act, and she was only 15, debuting on the charts after appearing regularly for a few years as a child prodigy on Steve Allen and Perry Como’s TV variety shows.
With 47 charting singles during the decade, she went on to be the #1 Hot100 solo female of the 1960s. Another example of The Nashville Sound, produced in Nashville by one of the Sound’s pioneers, Owen Bradley, it’s Brenda Lee at #3 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown, “I’m Sorry.”
Brenda Lee, the biggest of her six charting records in 1960, “I’m Sorry,” her third of nine consecutive singles in the top 10 from 1960 to ’62, a record for a female solo artist that stood until Madonna in 1986.
#2 Elvis Presley – It’s Now or Never
And we’re down to #2 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1960: the only act with two songs in our countdown, the year he returned from his two years of military service overseas. After his obligatory Rock ‘n Roll single “Stuck on You” in the Spring, for his next, he decided to air out the extra octave he’d found in his vocal range while in Germany.
Bobby Darin set the template in ’59 when he abruptly switched from Teen Rock Novelties like “Splish Splash I’m Taking a Bath” to Sinatresque belting on “Mack the Knife,” which ended up being 1959’s #1 hit. It worked for Teen Idol Bobby Rydell and R&B singer Jackie Wilson too. Rydell’s “Volare” and Wilson’s “Night,” both #4 hits. And it worked for Elvis. His operatic song based on the Italian standard “O Sole Mio” that won over even his most dug-in adult detractors, at #2, “It’s Now or Never.”
The best-selling single of Elvis Presley’s career, and that’s saying something! “It’s Now or Never,” 1960s #2 song here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Also his biggest-ever international hit. His inspiration? Crooner Tony Martin’s #2 hit “There’s No Tomorrow” from 1950, also based on “O Sole Mio.”
To tease Elvis’s transformation from Teen Idol to cross-generational superstar, manager Col. Tom Parker booked him for a primetime Welcome Home Elvis TV special on ABC hosted by Frank Sinatra. It was his first TV appearance in three years and he got $125 grand for it, which raised even Sinatra’s eyebrows!
Presley continued scoring hits, of course, but his focus in the ’60s was on Hollywood and movies, not singles and albums, even after the British Invasion and Folk Rock took the music he’d popularized to new heights.
#1 Percy Faith – Theme from ‘A Summer Place.’
And that brings us to #1: an instrumental, and the theme from a movie, although not the version from the movie. And the song remains to this day the longest run at #1 (nine weeks) for an instrumental in Hot100 history. In a year that saw the Pop charts reflecting grownup musical tastes for the first time in the Rock Era, with albums eclipsing singles, stereo eclipsing mono and hi-fi systems in the Sears catalog, is it any wonder that the #1 hit of the year is an Easy Listening record by an Orchestra leader whose last top ten was in 1953?
Well at least it was a movie for Teenagers, one of the few out that year, with Sandra Dee fresh from the first Gidget film, and Troy Donahue in his first romantic lead. Here is Percy Faith’s “Theme from ‘A Summer Place.'”
Vienna-born composer Max Steiner was an Oscar winning veteran by 1960, having done scores for everything from Gone with the Wind to King Kong to Casablanca. Steiner wrote it; Columbia Records’ in-house orchestra leader through the ’50s sold 10 million records of it. “Theme from ‘A Summer Place,'” The #1 record of 1960, both by our Chartcrush ranking and according to Billboard’s published year-end Hot100 chart.
Which people, including us here at Chartcrush, have tried to reverse-engineer to ascertain their ranking method for 1960, but to no avail. Billboard’s is similar, but two of the songs we heard this hour did not make the top ten on their year-end Hot100. Connie Francis’s “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” our #10 song, was close, but shook out at #11 on Billboard’s published list. And Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” was only #15, since the first half of its chart run was in Billboard’s 1959 “chart year,” the set timeframe they consider for their ranking.
At Chartcrush, we don’t do “chart years.” How we do it is, we factor every song’s full chart run and rank it in whichever year it earned the most points, which makes “El Paso” the #9 song of 1960.
Now because we have two that weren’t in Billboard’s top ten, a couple from their top ten we didn’t hear, so in the time we have left, let’s have a look at those.
#17 Jimmy Jones – Handy Man
Billboard’s #8 song of 1960 was #17 on our ranking, best known for James Taylor’s cover in 1977. But the 1960 version wasn’t really the original either, even though it is by the guy who wrote the song. Confused? Stay tuned. I’ll explain after we have a listen to Jimmy Jones’ “Handy Man.”
Jimmy Jones, “Handy Man.” Jones wrote the song in the mid ’50s for his Doo Wop group The Sparks of Rhythm. But they didn’t record it ’til after Jones left the group to join a different group in 1956. But nevertheless, that version by The Sparks of Rhythm without Jimmy Jones is the first recorded version, unreleased until 1960 when the one we just heard started climbing the charts, at which point they put it out. But it’s completely different! Producer Otis Blackwell re-wrote the music and Jones recorded the new version we just heard that was the hit. Incidentally, the flute player they hired was a no-show at the recording session for “Handy Man,” so that’s Otis Blackwell whistling throughout the song.
#15 Mark Dinning – Teen Angel
Our next bonus cut was Billboard’s #5 song of 1960: a respectable hit with 18 weeks on the chart including two at #1 in February between “Running Bear” and “Theme from ‘A Summer Place.'” We have it at #15.
It wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first “Teen Tragedy” record, but it was the first #1 Teen Tragedy record, which opened the door for many others. It was such a downer, though, that many radio stations, including Britain’s BBC, refused to play it. Which, of course, only made it sell better. It’s Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel.”
Mark Dinning’s big sisters Jean, Ginny and Lou were The Dinning Sisters, who charted four hits in 1947 and ’48. They’d dissolved years before, but Jean and her hubby wrote “Teen Angel.” Once they cracked the top ten, radio kind of had to play these songs but DJs put them down as “tear jerkers,” “death discs,” and “splatter platters.” The genre, though (that’s what it became after “Teen Angel” was a hit, a whole genre) had its roots in Folk Balladry. Teen Tragedy Records’ popularity followed in the wake of the Folk Revival that paralleled Rock ‘n Roll.
#24 Hollywood Argyles – Alley Oop
So those were the two songs from Billboard‘s year-end top ten that weren’t in our 1960 Chartcrush Countdown, but we’re gonna wrap up this week’s show with an also-ran by two of the most fascinating behind-the-scenes figures in Pop in the ’60s, Gary S. Paxton and Kim Fowley: two young, manic, shameless Pop opportunists careening around in the same bizarre landscape, which happened to be the soon-to-be epicenter of Pop culture, Los Angeles, California.
Two versions of the song inspired by a comic strip about a time-traveling caveman debuted on the Hot100 May 30, the same week as Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry,” and a third version the following week, but this was the #1 hit: Billboard’s #16 song on the year; #24 on our ranking, credited to fictional group The Hollywood Argyles, “Alley Oop.”
Gary Paxton, who sings that exaggerated vocal, was Flip in the Pop duo Skip & Flip, and under contract with a different label so he had to conceal his involvement with “Alley Oop.” The studio where it was recorded was at the intersection of the Hollywood Freeway and tiny Argyle Avenue, so Hollywood Argyles.
“Alley Oop” at first glance seems like just a silly Novelty, but there’s just something about it that makes you want to lift the lid to see what’s going on in whatever world that came out of: a harbinger of both Garage Rock and at least the more demented side of Psychedelia later epitomized by another character from Paxton and co-producer Kim Fowley’s world, Frank Zappa.
Paxton’s next triumph was the 1962 Halloween classic, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “The Monster Mash.”
Well, that’s gonna have to be a wrap for our 1960 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Thanks for listening. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. If you like what you heard this hour, check out our website, chartcrush.com for written transcripts and links to stream this and other Chartcrush countdown shows on Spotify, plus chart run line graphs and other first-rate extras. We count down a different year every week on this show from the beginning of the charts in the ’40s, right on up to the present, so tune again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.