One-hit wonders – You can’t blame them just because people didn’t like their other stuff. Let 360°Sound take you back in time to 1960. We’ll hit the highlights as we hear youth-oriented pop culture begin to take hold in America.
Rock ‘n’ roll had emerged in the ‘50s, but by 1960 Elvis was in the Army, and a series of tragedies and misadventures had silenced the voices of some early icons of the new style. The rawer, wilder sounds of early rock ‘n’ roll were tamed, and a more refined “teen idol” era filled the void. In 1960, a wide range of styles continued to define popular music.
To be certified as a 360° one-hit wonder, an artist must have notched a position in the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 40 once – and only once. 1960 had 42 such occurrences! We waded through them all, selecting the best and most interesting of the lot. Join us on a tour of one-hit-wonder-dom circa 1960.
Mark Dinning – “Teen Angel”
Songwriters: Jean Dinning & Red Surrey
Hot 100: #1 on Feb. 8
My introduction to “Teen Angel” was when I bought the excellent 2CD American Graffiti soundtrack, which is chockfull of great late ’50s and early ‘60s rock, pop and R&B. Credited with kicking off the teen-death song craze (Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss” and the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” would follow), the song was slow to chart but eventually hit #1. It was actually banned in England due to its morbid subject matter, and still went to #37 on the UK charts.
“I didn’t even think it was going to be a hit,” Dinning told Wayne Jancik, author of The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders. “They banned it in England because they considered it ‘too bloody awful.’ It was kind of a silly song, really; a girl going back for the ring and all that. It was a far-out, left-field teenage folk song that sold 3.5 million copies.”
Garry Mills/Deane Hawley/Garry Miles – “Look For a Star”
Songwriter: Mark Anthony
Mills version – #26 on July 25
Hawley version – #34 on July 25
Miles version – #16 on Aug. 1
Three different artists had their only career Top 40-hit in the same year, with the same song. The backstory is a great example of what is known as a “cover.” In this era, when a song became a hit, it was fairly common practice for a producer to have a different artist record the same song in an attempt to “cover” it on the charts.
Singer Deane Hawley recorded “Look for a Star” and had his first and only hit. Then Billy Vaughn, a bandleader with many hits, recorded an instrumental version that went to #19 on the charts. (So, this song actually charted for four different artists in the summer of 1960!)
Enter James E. ‘Buzz’ Cason, a founding member of The Casuals, Nashville’s first rock band. Cason decided to launch a solo career, and for his first single he recorded “Look For a Star.” The record was released under the name ‘Garry Miles.’ At that time, a recording of “Star” by British singer Garry Mills was featured in the film Circus of Horrors, and was gaining chart momentum.
“This might be the most blatant trans-Atlantic cover-version snatch ever,” wrote Ian Hall in his book One Hit Wonders. “The devious, nefarious, and most barefaced musical plot in the history of pop music.” Further research suggests that Cason may have been pressured by his label to change his name. (It’s always the suits!)
Recounting the story to Billboard years later, Cason (aka Miles) said Snuff Garrett, his record producer, told him, ‘We got to get this song on the streets fast; cut on Saturday, mastered/pressed on Sunday, and in the stores by Monday.’ Said Cason: “I was 21 years old; petrified.” Sy Waronker, the founder of Liberty Records, reportedly said “What’s the other kid’s name?’ ‘Garry Mills?’ ‘Call ‘em, Garry Miles.’
“Nowadays, they’d be all over ya with legal stuff,” Cason said. “Covering a guy’s record and covering his name, too.”
And Cason’s record didn’t just cover it, it totally copied it. Other than singing in a lower register, the arrangement is identical, down to the organ stabs. The Mills and ‘Miles’ versions rose together on the charts, peaking at their high points just one week apart.
Hank Locklin – “Please Help Me, I’m Falling”
Songwriters: Don Robertson, Hal Blair
Hot 100: #8 on Aug. 1
A Florida native, Hank Locklin started recording country sides for Decca in the late 1940s. His first single, “The Same Sweet Girl,” went to #8 on the country charts. But his career really took off when he signed to RCA Victor in 1955 and started recording with Nashville legend Chet Atkins. When Locklin lent his clear tenor to “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” record executives never expected such a conventionally-country song to be a Top-10 pop hit.
Later in 1960, singer Skeeter Davis recorded a response song “(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too.” Davis’s song reached #2 on the country charts and #39 on the pop charts. “Please Help Me” would go on to become a country standard, covered by such artists as The Everly Brothers, Charley Pride, John Fogerty, Dolly Parton and Gladys Knight.
Bob Luman – “Let’s Think About Living”
Songwriter: Boudleaux Bryant
Hot 100: #7 on Oct. 24
A Top 10 hit on the pop and country charts, “Let’s Think About Living” was an upbeat and catchy spoof of the teenage-tragedy craze. The song’s first line: “In every other song that I’ve heard lately, some fellow gets shot.”
Bob Luman was a semi-pro baseball player who, as a teen, wanted to be country music star like his idol Lefty Frizzell. Luman saw Elvis Presley perform at a country music show in the ’50s, which inspired him to go the rockabilly route. He started recording but, while he appeared on TV and had a small film role, none of his singles charted.
In 1959, Luman got a contract offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates and announced during a gig that he’d be quitting music to play baseball. The Everly Brothers happened to be in the audience at the show, they convinced him to give music one more try and record “Let’s Think About Living.”
Luman would go on to have numerous hits on the country charts throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s before his death from pneumonia in 1978 at age 41. The excellent German reissue label, Bear Family Records, released Bob Rocks, a compilation of 36 of Luman’s most rockin’ sides for their Rocks series.
The Paradons – “Diamonds and Pearls”
Songwriter: West Tyler
Hot 100: #18 on Oct. 24
A gorgeous doo-wop ballad, “Diamonds and Pearls” was the debut single from the Paradons, a short-lived group from Bakersfield, California. With the success of “Diamonds and Pearls,” the Paradons appeared on American Bandstand and at the Apollo Theater alongside Fats Domino.
“It felt wonderful. The ride of my life,” Paradons singer/songwriter William Ralph Powers told Billboard years later. “The limos. Wining and dining. But soon we found out our agent was shady, contracts were fuzzy. These guys were making so much money, and they did not want us to get any of it.”
Powers left the group in late 1960. After the group disbanded, Milestone, the record label, continued releasing singles from the recording sessions but none would chart.
Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs – “Stay”
Songwriter: Maurice Williams
Hot 100: #1 on Nov. 21
Maurice Williams, leader of the doo-wop group the Zodiacs from Lancaster, South Carolina, wrote “Stay” when he was just 15 years old. Clocking in at just 1 minute 38 seconds, “Stay” holds the title for shortest #1 in Billboard Hot 100 history. In case you’re wondering, Don McLean’s “American Pie (Parts I & II)” was the longest #1 at 8 minutes 37 seconds.
“Stay” is an extraordinary pop song and my favorite of the bunch. The song was included on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in 1987 and was more successful then than during its initial release. “Stay” has been widely covered, and some artists had hits with it, including the Four Seasons (#16 in 1964), Jackson Browne (#20 in 1978), and Rufus & Chaka Khan hit #3 on the R&B charts in 1978.
Etta Jones – “Don’t Go to Strangers”
Songwriters: Redd Evans (lyrics), Arthur Kent & Dave Mann (music)
Hot 100: #36 on Dec. 11
A million-seller, “Don’t Go To Strangers” went to #5 on the R&B chart. It’s too bad that this lovely ballad was Etta Jones’s only hit. She was a talented jazz singer worthy of more commercial success. She recorded dozens of albums throughout her 50-year career, highlighted by a stellar run of LPs for Prestige from 1960 to 1965. She worked with such jazz greats as guitarist Kenny Burrell and saxophonist Oliver Nelson.
1960 was a transition year in the music business. The Beatles would soon completely disrupt the industry and change dramatically the way music was recorded and marketed. Stay tuned to 360°Sound, next up is our look at the best one-hitters from 1970, in which we see the cultural impact of those changes.