Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Coming up with a trivia topic you have not already covered is tough, but I believe I have one.

Of all the No. 1 songs, which one has the longest title.

While you're at it, which one has the shortest title?
—Leonard Houseman, Lancaster, Pa.

DEAR LEONARD: That is now not one but two questions; however, both are indeed new topics.

By imposing no genre or time frame restrictions, the answers reflect the all-time winners in each category. You also sanction No. 1 hits with subtitles, as is proper.

Not regarded as a subtitle, however, is a mere listing of songs included in a “Medley,” such as by Stars on 45.

A subtitle needs to be beginning and/or ending words added to a title, after which the complete thing can be read as a sentence.

The longest No. 1 hit title, a huge World War 2 hit from the summer of '44, contains 63 characters. By Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters, it is “(There'll Be a) Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marching In) (Decca 23350).

Prophetically composed in 1943 by two real-life soldiers, Sgt. Joe Bushkin and Pvt. John De Vries, their song became reality in April 1945 when the Yanks (Allies) did indeed claim victory in Berlin.

For something a little more recent, honorable mention goes to “(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” by B.J. Thomas — a 1975 hit with 53 characters.

As for the shortest, it is a seven-way tie. Each of these No. 1 titles has but three letters: “Cry” (1951, Johnny Ray and the Four Lads); “ABC” (1970, Jackson Five); “War” (1970, Edwin Starr); “Ben” (1972, Michael Jackson); “Bad” (1987, Michael Jackson); “Fly” (1997, Sugar Ray & Super Cat); “SOS” (2006, Rihanna).

Worthy of note is that Michael Jackson is the singer on three of these numbers.

For those wondering about the two-letter title “If,” it peaked at No. 4 for Bread (1971), and also No. 4 for Janet Jackson (1993).

Meanwhile, in other WW2 music news:

DEAR JERRY: I just received a record bought on eBay, and with it comes a little mystery.

It's an original of Johnny Horton's “Sink the Bismarck” (Columbia 41568), and it came in a nice picture sleeve.

However, the title on the sleeve is “Sink the Bismark” (no 'c' as is shown on the label).

I see a reference to the film, in tiny print below the title, which also reads “Sink the Bismarck.”

Which name is correct? Do “Bismarck” sleeves also exist?
—Rod Chamberlain, Show Low, Ariz.

DEAR ROD: The correct name of the legendary German battleship is Bismarck, and the correct title of the 1960 film is “Sink the Bismarck.”

All of which establishes the proper title for the song — co-written by Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks — as “Sink the Bismarck.”

First commercial pressings, as well as picture sleeves and promotional copies, reflect verification based more on phonetics than research. Even the capital of North Dakota is spelled like the ship.

Columbia quickly corrected the flub on record labels, but continued using their stock of “Bismark” picture sleeves, which explains the combination making up your recent purchase.

When “Sink the Bismarck” made their charts, both Billboard and Cash Box listed the correct title, though a few regional surveys reflected the misspelling found on their promo copies.

IZ ZAT SO? Though we grant the “Sink the Bismarck” lyricist some poetic license, for historical accuracy's sake here is the correct timeline:

After “the mighty Hood went down,” the song continues “for six long days and weary nights they tried to find her trail,” followed by locating and sinking the Bismarck on the seventh day.

Apparently, the actual time between these events is less than half that.

According to the ship's log, the Bismarck sank the Hood at 06:01 on May 24, 1941. Then, slightly over three days later, at 10:39 on May 27, the Bismarck exploded and sank.

On the 19th anniversary of this victory at sea, “Sink the Bismarck” resided in the nation's Top 20.

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