Ask "Mr. Music"
Jerry Osborne

In syndication since 1986, and now in our 30th year — Over 3,000 questions answered
Most recent column here — 18 years of archived ones are linked below


FOR THE WEEK OF AUGUST 22, 2016

DEAR JERRY: Leave it to me to come up with a question that is not covered anywhere on earth.

Of the highest ranked artists for vinyl era singles sales, did any achieve that success despite never having a Billboard Top 10 hit?
—Ivan Foxx, Mobile, Ala.

DEAR IVAN: Years ago we dealt with legendary stars who never had a No. 1 hit, but lowering the bar to the Top 10 makes for what is an extremely rare occurrence — approximately one for every 175 artists.

To join this club requires having a significant number of chart hits that peaked just a little bit south of No. 10.

Among hundreds of vinyl era artists, I found three that meet your criteria, and one of those comes with a caveat:

1. Ronnie Dove

I'm including Mr. Dove only because you specified the Billboard charts; otherwise, he would not be on this list.

Three of his biggest hits, "Right Or Wrong" (1964), "One Kiss for Old Time's Sake" (1965), and "A Little Bit of Heaven" (1965), hovered below Billboard's Top 10, though all three made the Top 10 on Record World and/or Cash Box.

Obviously, not all publications relied on the same sources for measuring sales.

2. Solomon Burke

Solomon had 28 Billboard Hot 100 tunes, with "Got to Get You Off My Mind" (1965) peaking at No. 22. His highest ranking overall was when "Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)" (1961) reached No. 17 on Record World.

A spot in their Top 10 was, dare I say, just out of reach.

3. Chuck Jackson

Among his 23 Hot 100 records, all three industry charts agree that "Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)" (1962) was his biggest hit, but still fell short of everyone's Top 10. It managed to climb to No. 12 on Cash Box.

DEAR JERRY: Julie London's records have always been collectible, even if she is known as a one-hit wonder, thanks to "Cry Me a River."

I never heard of an earlier version, but a music blog says Ella Fitzgerald had the original recording of "Cry Me a River."

What do you think about that?
—Maria Chambers, Marysville, Calif.

DEAR MARIA: I think it is merely a matter of whether the word "recording" indicates the process of putting one's voice, or music, on tape, or it refers to a manufactured phonograph record that can be purchased.

Now let's go behind the scenes:

Songsmith Arthur Hamilton was asked to write a few songs for the soundtrack of "Pete Kelly's Blues," a 1955 film directed by Jack Webb, of "Dragnet" fame. Webb even starred in his movie, as musician Pete Kelly.

The cast also included singers Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald, and they were the ones Hamilton was writing for.

Three numbers submitted by Hamilton were "He Needs Me," "Sing a Rainbow," and "Cry Me a River."

Peggy Lee recorded "He Needs Me" and "Sing a Rainbow," and both are on the soundtrack, but "Cry Me a River" didn't make the cut.

Reportedly, Ella did record a taped demo of the tune at Warner Bros., but there was clearly no commercial release at that time. That would come six years later.

The idea was once floated that Jack Webb rejected "Cry Me a River" because, the year before, he and Julie London went through an acrimonious divorce.

Not only not true, but not possible. At that time, no one, including Julie, knew she would have any connection to that song.

The soundtrack (Decca DL-8166) does have three songs by Fitzgerald from other writers: "Hard Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah)," "Ella Hums the Blues," and "Pete Kelly's Blues."

The first commercial release of "Cry Me a River," and ultimately a Gold Record Award winner, was Julie London's waxing (Liberty 55006), issued in October 1955.

Almost immediately, three cover vocals popped up: Kitty White (Mercury 70722); Jill Corey (Columbia 40596); and Eileen Barton (Coral 61530). Then along came two jazz instrumentals: Don Elliott (ABC/Paramount 9676), and Dexter Gordon (Dootone 384).

There were even three "Cry Me a River" extended play 45s (EPs), one by Roberta Sherwood (Decca ED-2407), and two by the Tony Scott Quartet (RCA Victor EPA-771 and EPB-1268).

Even with the copious competition at the time, only Julie London made the charts with "Cry Me a River."

The mid-'50s vocals were all jazz-blues ballads, but in late 1959, Janice Harper hooked up with Stan Applebaum and His Orchestra, and they recast the tune in a rock-a-ballad style (Capitol 4324).

Their effort barely charted, but they did manage to make a very sad song sound happy. In 1961, Ella Fitzgerald finally recorded "Cry Me a River" for real. It first came out on the LP, "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!" (Verve V6-4053), and then on 45 as the B-side of that album's title track: "Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley!"/"Cry Me a River" (Verve VK-10241).

You probably noticed how the single's title varies from the LP, but just to be consistently inconsistent, the picture sleeve for the 45 reads "Clap Hands, (Here Comes Charlie!)."

Surprisingly, Joe Cocker's frantic refurbishment of Hamilton's "Cry Me a River" became a smash hit in 1970, and ranked in Record World's Top 10.

IZ ZAT SO? "Cry Me a River" may have missed being heard on the big screen in "Pete Kelly's Blues" (1955), but one year later, Julie London got to sing the song herself in "The Girl Can't Help It," in color and CinemaScope.

The film's "Special Guest" is Julie, who gets two of her Liberty albums prominently displayed, and really seems to enjoy appearing in seven very different costumes in just three minutes.

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