Chart Digging: March 6, 1961

Having disposed with March of 1963 briefly last week, I dropped back two more years this morning to see what was going out over the airwaves during the first week of March 1961. The Billboard Top Ten for March 6 of that year – fifty-one years ago today – is at least somewhat familiar today:

“Pony Time” by Chubby Checker
“Surrender” by Elvis Presley
“Wheels” by the String-A-Longs
“Don’t Worry” by Marty Robbins
“Where The Boys Are” by Connie Francis
“Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk
“Baby Sittin’ Boogie” by Buzz Clifford
“Dedicated To The One I Love” by the Shirelles
“There’s A Moon Out Tonight” by the Capris
“Ebony Eyes” by the Everly Brothers

I think that two of those – the singles by the Shirelles and the Capris – rank as all-time classics although I’m certain I didn’t hear them in early 1961. The only one of those I remember hearing at the time is “Where The Boys Are,” which was the title song to a movie starring Francis and George Hamilton. Most of the rest are familiar now, of course, although I had to listen to “Wheels” and “Baby Sittin’ Boogie” for reminders. (And I was reminded how much I dislike maudlin songs about death when I listened this morning to “Ebony Eyes” for the first time in many years.)

And, then, of course, I dipped down further in the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty-one years ago to see what might be lurking in the spots below No. 60 or so.

One of the most familiar songs in country western music – at least to my ears – is “Ghost Riders In The Sky: A Cowboy Legend.” Written in 1948 by Stan Jones, the song has been recorded more than fifty times, according to Wikipedia, with the first recording coming from Burl Ives in 1949; that version went to No. 21 on the pop chart and to No. 8 on the country chart. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles begins in 1955, so Ives’ single isn’t listed. The highest-placing cover Whitburn lists is the one I found at No. 62: The Ramrods’ instrumental take titled simply “Ghost Riders In The Sky” without the subtitle. The Ramrods – a quartet from Connecticut – had seen their version go to No. 30 two weeks earlier. It was their only Hot 100 hit. (Other  notable versions of the tune include the Outlaws’ 1981 release that went to No. 31 and Johnny Cash’s 1979 take on the tune that didn’t hit the pop chart but went to No. 2 on the country chart, matching Vaughn Monroe’s 1949 version.)

With Chubby Checker’s “Pony Time” in the middle of a three-week stay at No. 1, another version of the song, this one by the Goodtimers, was sitting at No. 69, on its way to No. 60. One of the members of the Goodtimers was Don Covay, the writer of Checker’s single as well as a good number of other R&B hits, including “Chain of Fools,” “Mercy Mercy” and “Letter Full Of Tears.” “Pony Time” was the first of several hits for Covay, with and without the Goodtimers; the highest-placing were “Mercy Mercy,” which went to No. 35 in 1964 (with, Whitburn notes, Jimi Hendrix on guitar), and “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In,” which went to No. 29 in 1973. (On the R&B chart, those two records went to No. 1 – for two weeks – and to No. 6, respectively.)

After Aretha Franklin became a star at Atlantic in the late 1960s, the idea that Columbia hadn’t known what to do with her when she was there hardened from opinion into accepted musical wisdom. And it’s true that a lot of the stuff Franklin recorded at Columbia through 1966 wasn’t a good fit for her. So I was a little leery when I saw that her “Won’t Be Long” was sitting at No. 83 fifty-one years ago today. But the record, which was on its way to No. 76, is better by far than I expected it to be. And it’s a piece of history, too: “Won’t Be Long” was the first of eighty-eight singles that Franklin placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1998. (It was her second hit in the R&B Top 40, going to No. 7.)

I haven’t had many reasons to share a record by Edith Piaf (I think it’s happened only two other times so far in five years), so when I saw her name pop up on the Hot 100 from March 6, 1961, the decision was easy. Sitting at No. 95, Piaf’s single “Milord” was the first and only single the legendary French singer ever placed in the Hot 100. (Her take on the theme to the movie “Exodus” bubbled under at No. 116 in the spring of 1961.) “Milord,” recorded in New York City, would peak at No. 88 in mid-March. (Another version of “Milord,” this one an instrumental by Frank Pourcel & His Orchestra, was bubbling under at No. 118 during that first week of March in 1961; it would peak at No. 112.)

Among my vivid memories from the early 1960s is the annual recognition of the incoming freshman class at St. Cloud State that took place at halftime of the first home football game. The announcer would ask the freshmen to stand as the marching band saluted them, and I recall seeing those young people stand, most seeming embarrassed and a few wearing their freshman beanies, as the band played “Hey Look Me Over” from the 1961 Broadway musical Wildcat. The version of the tune in the Hot 100 during the first week of March in 1961 was by the Pete King Chorale & Orchestra. The record – the only hit for Pete King and his musicians and the only version of the tune to ever hit the pop charts – would peak at No. 108. (For those wondering what a freshman beanie is, here’s a picture of the beanie from Ricker College in Maine. As was true at many colleges, for many years freshmen at St. Cloud State were required to wear their red and black beanies on campus and at college events during the first part of the academic year.  According to a 1998 note at St. Cloud State’s website, “the beanie requirement was abolished in 1961, but for the next few years, freshmen were encouraged to wear them.”)

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2 Responses to “Chart Digging: March 6, 1961”

  1. Saturday Single No. 281 « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] all of those news stories and thoughts in the past few days fit neatly with my exploration earlier this week of the Billboard Hot 100 from early March of 1961. I noted in that post that the […]

  2. Saturday Single No. 281 « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] all of those news stories and thoughts in the past few days fit neatly with my exploration earlier this week of the Billboard Hot 100 from early March of 1961. I noted in that post that the […]

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