DEAR JERRY: Despite several visits to our county library, I confess to be being stumped by this trivia question:
What song has been recorded thousands of times, by hundreds of different artists, yet has only been a pop hit twice, and less than two years apart? Each version was a Top 15 hit.
If you have the answer I gladly admit I threw in the towel and called on a higher power.
Clair Lewis, Jacksonville, Fla.
DEAR CLAIR: What we have here is an amazing slice of music trivia, and I mean that in more ways than one.
The only song perfectly matching the clues you provide is "Amazing Grace."
This story begins in the 18th century, with John Newton and William Cowper, two British preachers in Olney, Buckinghamshire, who regularly wrote poems and hymns for use in their services.
One such composition, eventually published in 1779, evolved into what is known as "Amazing Grace," though it would be another 60 years before the familiar melody long associated with Newton's words was added.
Most estimates of the number of distinct "Amazing Grace" recordings range from 6,500 to 7,000, but, as you know, only two made the singles charts at all, much less the Top 15.
First came an a cappella version by Judy Collins, from a live concert and backed by a chorus of her friends and acquaintances (Elektra 45709). Issued in December 1970, "Amazing Grace" ranks as Judy's third biggest hit ever, after "Both Sides Now" and "Send in the Clowns."
Just 17 months after Judy's recording faded away, an atypical instrumental of "Amazing Grace" started heading up the charts.
This oddity, a UK import by the Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, featured a bagpipe, an instrument very rarely heard on hit records.
Understandingly, the Brits loved this recording, and it held the No. 1 position on their New Musical Express chart for four weeks in the spring of 1972.
DEAR JERRY: One of the oldies channels played "Venus" by Frankie Avalon, then followed it with "Venus" by Shocking Blue. They then made a comment about how unusual it is to have two different songs, with the same title, both reaching No. 1.
Other than "Venus," are there many other songs that accomplished this?
Randall Woodside, Dover, Del.
DEAR RANDALL: Let's find out, as my research on your behalf begins in 1949, the first year of the 45 rpm single, "the little record with the big hole."
From then to now I spotted 14 occasions (including "Venus") where two completely different songs, that share the same title, topped the U.S. singles charts plus one ("My Love") that did it three times:
"All 4 Love" Color Me Badd (1992)
"All for Love" Bryan Adams-Rod Stewart-Sting (1994)
"Best of My Love" Eagles (1975)
"Best of My Love" Emotions (1977)
"Big Girls Don't Cry" 4 Seasons (1962)
"Big Girls Don't Cry" Fergie (2007)
"Butterfly" Charlie Gracie/Andy Williams (1957)
"Butterfly" Crazy Town (2001)
"Family Affair" Sly and the Family Stone (1971)
"Family Affair" Mary J. Blige (2001)
"Good Vibrations" Beach Boys (1966)
"Good Vibrations" Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (1991)
"Honey" Bobby Goldsboro (1968)
"Honey" Mariah Carey (1997)
"I'm Sorry" Brenda Lee (1960)
"I'm Sorry" John Denver (1975)
"Jump" Van Halen (1984)
"Jump" Kris Kross (1992)
"My Love" Petula Clark (1966)
"My Love" Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
"My Love" Justin Timberlake Featuring T.I. (2006)
"One More Try" George Michael (1988)
"One More Try" Timmy T (1991)
"Someday" Vaughn Monroe (1949)
"Someday" Mariah Carey (1991)
"Take a Bow" Madonna (1995)
"Take a Bow" Rihanna (2008)
"Venus" Frankie Avalon (1959)
"Venus" Shocking Blue (1970)
"Wild, Wild West" Escape Club (1988)
"Wild Wild West" Will Smith with Dru Hill and Kool Mo Dee (1999)
IZ ZAT SO? Since the above topic required a careful examination of each No. 1 hit, I noticed how few of those titles are one word, having no more than three letters (parenthetical subtitles excluded).
During the four-decade vinyl era, only seven titles qualify. Of those, three are from the same year, and two are by the same person.
"If" Perry Como (1951)
"Sin" Eddy Howard (1951)
"Cry" Johnny Ray and the Four Lads (1951)
"Why" Frankie Avalon (1959)
"War" Edwin Starr (1970)
"Ben" Michael Jackson (1972)
"Bad" Michael Jackson (1987)
IZ ZAT SO? When Tom T. Hall wrote "Harper Valley P.T.A." he could never have imagined what a cultural phenomenon he'd created.
Not only did Jeannie C. Riley's 1968 recording top both the pop and country charts in the U.S. and Canada the first time ever accomplished by a female but that one little phonograph record inspired a feature film (1978) AND a TV series (1981). That too had never happened before.