Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I just watched, for the second time, the Biography Channel's feature on the Mamas and the Papas. And, as when I first I saw it a couple of years ago, a red flag went up when something was said about them being the first mixed-gender group to have a No. 1 Hit. At least I think that was the gist of it.

Of course we (the Fleetwoods) were a trio, and the Mamas and the Papas were a quartet, but I don't think that distinction was made.

I started to write to the Biography Channel for clarification, but then remembered your extensive Fleetwoods research in 2006, and decided to let you sort all of this out.
—Gretchen Christopher, Olympia, Wash.

DEAR GRETCHEN: I guess I am a sorter of sorts, but in this case the random element is exactly what they said. I have tried to locate video of that episode, but without success.

Regardless, I'll cover what I think are all of the reasonable possibilities.

Let's begin with "Monday Monday," the only No. 1 hit for the Mamas and the Papas (May 1966), and work backwards.

Clearly they are not the first mixed-gender group, meaning of three or more members, to top the charts. Preceding them in this category are the Essex (quintet); Fleetwoods (trio); Pied Pipers (quartet); Platters (quintet); Rooftop Singers (trio); Ruby and the Romantics (quintet); and Weavers (quartet).

This also shows the Mamas and the Papas were not the first mixed-gender quartet atop the charts — unless the list is limited only to hits from 1952 (post Pied Pipers and Weavers) or later. If so, they are, and that could be what the bio implied.

There is another possibility, though somewhat far-fetched. "Monday Monday" was the first No. 1 hit by a quartet consisting of an equal number of males and females: John Phillips; Michelle Phillips; Denny Doherty; and Cass Elliot. All but Michelle are now deceased.

Knowing you have no objections to my reminding readers of some of the distinctions owned by your Fleetwoods, these are my favorites:

For nearly 100 years, from the invention of the phonograph (1877) to April 1973, the Fleetwoods were the only mixed-gender trio with more than one No. 1 hit — regardless of whether the Pop charts (Billboard, Cash Box, etc.) consisted of 10, 15, 30, or 100 songs!

In chronological order, here are all eight No. 1 songs by mixed-gender trios (1877 to 1973), with gender makeup:

1958: Teddy Bears - "To Know Him Is to Love Him" (FMM)
1959: Fleetwoods - "Come Softly to Me" (MFF)
1959: Browns - "The Three Bells" (MFF)
1959: Fleetwoods - "Mr. Blue" (MFF)
1963: Rooftop Singers - "Walk Right In" (FMM)
1969: Peter, Paul & Mary - "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" (FMM)
1971: Tony Orlando & Dawn - "Knock Three Times" (MFF)
1973: Tony Orlando & Dawn - "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" (MFF)

"Come Softly to Me," co-written by someone named Gretchen Christopher (she wrote the original "Come Softly," music and lyrics, then arranged them in counterpoint to a male background), and "Mr. Blue." Both were million-sellers in 1959, making the Fleetwoods the top singles group of that year. Those two also became the first and second Gold Record Award winners for any northwest group and/or label (Dolphin/Dolton).

Finally, and this is a big one, the Fleetwoods are the only group between late 1956 (Platters: "The Great Pretender" and "My Prayer") and late 1962 (4 Seasons: "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry"), with two No. 1 hits in the same year, regardless of member demographics.

Congratulations Soft One!

DEAR JERRY: Every year, for the past 20 or so Decembers, we've enjoyed Merle Haggard's "Goin' Home for Christmas."

I know the song by heart, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard it on the radio this year, and caught the tail end of a spoken introduction by Merle.

Exactly what all does he say? I missed part of it.
—Carolyn Munnick, Milwaukee

DEAR CAROLYN: As you know, "Goin' Home for Christmas" involves persuading grandpa, a white knuckle flyer, to come home for Christmas on a train. Thus, Merle's 25-second prologue goes like this:

"My family called me on the phone and said
Grandpa, would ya come home
We'd love to have you here on Christmas day
We know you won't get on a plane, but you could ride a train
You could see the scenery along the way"

He then launches into "Goin' home for Christmas … comin' on a train."

I'm somewhat surprised Amtrak hasn't incorporated this tune into one of their ads.

IZ ZAT SO? The 1964 British Invasion changed the American music landscape in many ways, but one of the least known is that for seven consecutive years (1964-1970), at least one group had two or more No. 1 hits in the same year.

Remember, before 1964 this only happened three times in music history (Platters, Fleetwoods, 4 Seasons).

The acts mostly responsible for this transformation are the Beatles; Supremes; Herman's Hermits; Rolling Stones; Monkees; and the Jackson 5.

The peak year for groups and duos is 1965, when they claimed 92% of the chart toppers. Of the 25 No. 1 tunes that year, only two are by solo artists: "Downtown" (Petula Clark) and "Eve of Destruction" (Barry McGuire).

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