Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: A friend stunned me recently by saying that before 1964, and the first U.S. Beatles album, no rock group had a No. 1 album.

Is this accurate? If so, then how close did the Beach Boys and 4 Seasons come?

How many solo artists, either male, female, or mixed, did so during the pre-Beatles years?
—Howard Newton, Honolulu

DEAR HOWARD: Your friend is telling it like it is, making album sales by groups just one more example of how the Beatles changed everything.

Before “Meet the Beatles” zoomed to the top of the LP charts, the only vocal groups to accomplish that were either folk music or adult-oriented pop acts; five by the Kingston Trio; two by Peter, Paul and Mary; and three by Mitch Miller and the Gang.

As for the Beach Boys, “Surfin' U.S.A.” (1963) reached No. 2, and “Sherry & 11 Others,” by the 4 Seasons (1962) peaked at No. 6.

Then came the British Invasion, bringing instant and remarkable consequences.

Of the 53 No. 1 albums between “Meet the Beatles” and the end of the decade, only these eight are by solo singers:

1964: “Hello Dolly” (Louis Armstrong); “People” (Barbra Streisand)
1965: “Roustabout” (Elvis Presley)
1966: “Ballads of the Green Berets” (SSgt Barry Sadler); “Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra)
1967: “Ode to Billie Joe” (Bobbie Gentry)
1968: “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell)
1969: “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” (Johnny Cash)

The remaining 44 are by something other than a solo singer, comprising soundtracks (4), original casts (2), and vocal (32) or instrumental (6) groups.

We have written before about Elvis (7); Ricky Nelson (1); Ray Charles (1); and Little Stevie Wonder (1), being the only rock or soul artists — regardless of gender makeup — with No. 1 LPs before “Meet the Beatles.”

Perhaps even more mind-boggling is that the first solo rock female in history to top the album charts is Janis Joplin, which did not happen until February 1971, with “Pearl.”

Before going solo, Joplin sang lead for Big Brother and the Holding Company, and their “Cheap Thrills” hit No. 1 in October 1968.

Wondering about the two top first generation rock and roll gals? The highest LP chart position for Connie Francis and Brenda Lee is No. 4, and both of them reached it in the same year, 1960.

Before “Pearl,” five non-rock females peaked at No. 1: Doris Day (1955); Judy Garland (1961); the Singing Nun (1963); Barbra Streisand (1964); and Bobbie Gentry (1967).

Not until the end of 1976 were there two consecutive No. 1 albums by females: “Living in the USA” (Linda Ronstadt) and “Live and More” (Donna Summer).

DEAR JERRY: Most popular recordings are eventually forgotten and rarely heard in years ahead.

Not so with Christmas songs.

Once one becomes a hit, it can be played and sold every year around this time, seemingly forever. It's hard to know exactly how old some of them are.

Here are five I have heard every year for all of my life, but would like to know when they were first issued, and which is the original version:

“Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree”: Many versions of this, but my favorites are by Brenda Lee, and the duet by Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love.

“Blue Christmas”: Obviously Elvis owns this tune, but Brian Wilson has a really beautiful ballad version.

“Jingle Bell Rock”: Dozens exist, but Bobby Helms seems to be the main one. A duet by Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker also gets played a lot.

“Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town”: I first heard it by the 4 Seasons, then years later by Bruce Springsteen.

“Sleigh Ride”: Issued in every conceivable style, from the Boston Pops to the fabulous version by the Ronettes.
—Thelma Hawkins, Jefferson, Wisc.

DEAR THELMA: Here is the year and original single release for each:

“Blue Christmas”: 1948 by Doye O'Dell (Exclusive 65, mistakenly titled “Blues Christmas”)
“Jingle Bell Rock”: 1957 by Bobby Helms (Decca 30513)
“Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree”: 1958 by Brenda Lee (Decca 30776)
“Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town”: 1934 by Harry Reser and His Orchestra (Decca 264)
“Sleigh Ride”: 1949 by the Boston Pops (RCA Victor 10-1484)

IZ ZAT SO? Leroy Anderson composed the music for “Sleigh Ride” in 1948, though his instrumental arrangement didn't come out on record until late '49 (Boston Pops).

In 1950, Mitchell Parish wrote the now-familiar lyrics to go with Anderson's work, making for a magnum opus.

Each year, “Sleigh Ride” is either at or near the top of America's most-played Holiday songs.

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