Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: It has been fun reading the occasional question and answer about the British music scene in the golden age of pop and rock.

As a teen, my time was divided between the US and the UK, and I recall how often my friends in one country had not heard of some of the very popular stars across the Atlantic.

It would be nice to know which of the early rock and roll songs became the first to reach No. 1 in the UK. My guess is “Sh-Boom.”
—Martha Clarkson, Evansville, Ind.

DEAR MARTHA: The answer is definitely not “Sh-Boom.” Though a No. 1 hit in the US, this Crew-Cuts tune peaked at No. 12 (October 9, 1954) in the UK.

My pick for this honor is “Such a Night,” Johnnie Ray's spirited cover of a Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters hit. With it, Johnnie Ray claimed the top spot in the UK the first week of May 1954.

One thing learned over the years is that opinions vary widely on whether certain recordings should be categorized as Rock and Roll. Therefore, some may question my picking a Johnnie Ray track, but I feel his version is similar enough to the original by the Drifters, and even to Elvis Presley's remake, to qualify.

For anyone who disagrees about “Such a Night,” then the answer came along a year and a half later in the form of “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and His Comets. This seminal R&R release first topped the British chart November 26, 1955.

Probably because the Drifters didn't get played in the UK, Johnnie Ray had the song all to himself there. Since their recording was a Top 20 R&B hit stateside, Johnnie Ray's version went mostly unnoticed here.

DEAR JERRY: A few weeks ago I was listening to a song that I had not heard in a very long time: “Lotta Love,” by Nicolette Larson. Then the disc jockey said that she had died but did not mention anything else about her.

Can you fill me in on what happened to cause her death?

She was so talented. I would really appreciate any help with this.
—Peter Hagen, via e-mail

DEAR PETER: Nicolette Larson, best known for the tune you mention, her 1978 Top 10 hit of Neil Young's “Lotta Love,” died at just 45 years of age.

Larson passed away December 16, 1997 in Los Angeles. The cause of death is described as an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the brain.

One week earlier, Nicolette checked into St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank with massive liver failure. She was then transferred to UCLA Medical Center, where she remained until her death. Larson began as a background singer for Hoyt Axton. She later performed as a backup vocalist for such stars as Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Christopher Cross, the Doobie Brothers, and others.

On now to our next Larson-related matter:

DEAR JERRY: My boyfriend insists the Billy Joel's “Uptown Girl” is originally a hit for Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons. I disagree with him, so it's up to you to decide who's right.
—Robin Larson, Mayville, Wisc.

DEAR ROBIN: This round goes to you, though there is a Frankie Valli connection. “Uptown Girl,” a Top 3 hit in 1983, is a tribute by Billy Joel to the unmistakable falsetto sound of Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons.

IZ ZAT SO? Model Christie Brinkley, Billy Joel's girl friend in 1983, appeared in the video version of “Uptown Girl.” About two years later, the two were married.

Surprisingly, a painting by Christie Brinkley's was used as the cover art for Billy's 1993 album, “River of Dreams.”

The couple divorced in August of 1994.

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