Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I'm writing this on the 56th anniversary of the so-called "Day the Music Died," at least it is in Don Mclean's "American Pie."

One overlooked aspect of the Feb. 3, 1959 plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, is what effect it had on their record sales.

I mention this knowing how recordings by Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson went through the roof immediately after they died.

If it was anything even remotely similar, I am not aware of it. What say you?
—Doug Blackwell, Tulsa, Okla.

DEAR DOUG: With nearly 30 years and 3,000 questions behind us, I am certain this angle of rock and roll's first major tragedy is not one we have discussed.

On that Feb. 3rd, Ritchie Valens was the only one of the "Three Stars" with a record on the charts.

"Donna" was enjoying its second week at No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100. Meanwhile, "La Bamba," the B-side of "Donna," was at No. 22.

After three more weeks at No. 3, "Donna" inched up to No. 2, where it remained for two weeks, unable to dislodge Lloyd Price's "Stagger Lee" from No. 1. "Donna" then began the downward slide, eventually dropping off the survey on May 4th, after an impressive 23 week stay.

If there was any boost in record sales because of the crash, it clearly was not reflected by "La Bamba." Not only did it not climb any higher than the No. 22 spot held on Feb. 3rd, it actually began to tumble the very next week.

After 15 total weeks on the Hot 100, "La Bamba" departed in April, unable to move up at all from its position on Feb. 3rd.

Coincidentally, on January 26th, eight days before their ill-fated flight in Iowa, both Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (a.k.a., J.P. Richardson) dropped off the Hot 100; Holly with "Heartbeat" and the Bopper with "Chantilly Lace" and "Big Bopper's Wedding." Thus, neither man was on the charts on Feb. 3rd.

Nearly three weeks later (Feb. 23) Buddy Holly's next hit, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," debuted at No. 82 and would eventually peak at No. 13.

The Big Bopper never returned to the charts, though his label (Mercury) did release three more singles in 1959: "Walking Through My Dreams," "That's What I'm Talking About," and "Pink Petticoats."

Ritchie Valens had only one memorable tune after the crash, "That's My Little Suzie," that peaked at No. 55 in late April.

Each of the three artists had an album of their recent hits issued posthumously, but only Buddy Holly's sold well.

"The Buddy Holly Story" was a smashing success, peaking at No. 11 and logging 181 total weeks (nearly 3.5 years) among the Top LPs. That ensures its place among the all-time Top 40 most enduring albums of the entire vinyl era. This is also one of his two RIAA Certified Gold LPs, the other being "Buddy Holly/The Crickets 20 Golden Greats," a 1978 compilation.

To put things in perspective, remember that any LP classified as R&R in the 1950s, and found on Billboard's Best Selling LP list, would have been extraordinary.

This can be attributed to rock music being primarily a singles market, and that only 25 positions were available on the LP chart.

By category, here is the breakdown of the Top 25 LPs with their ranking for the survey week ending April 25, 1959:

Movie/TV Soundtracks and Original Casts (7):
1. "Gigi" (MGM Soundtrack)
2. "Peter Gunn" (Henry Mancini)
4. "77 Sunset Strip" (Warren Barker Orchestra)
10. "My Fair Lady" (Original Cast)
13. "South Pacific" (RCA Victor Soundtrack)
14. "Flower Drum Song" (Original Cast)
17. "The Music Man" (Original Cast)

Various Non-Rock Albums (15):
3. "From the Hungry I" (Kingston Trio)
6. "Come Dance with Me" (Frank Sinatra)
7. "Still More Sing Along with Mitch" (Mitch Miller and the Gang)
8. "Exotica, Vol. 1" (Martin Denny)
9. "The Kingston Trio" (Kingston Trio)
12. "Open Fire, Two Guitars" (Johnny Mathis)
15. "Film Encores" (Mantovani and His Orchestra)
16. "Near You" (Roger Williams)
18. "Sing Along with Mitch" (Mitch Miller and the Gang)
19. "Inside Shelly Berman" (Shelly Berman)
20. "Johnny's Greatest Hits" (Johnny Mathis)
21. "Billy Vaughn Plays" (Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra)
22. "Continental Encores" (Mantovani and His Orchestra)
24. "Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture" (Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra)
25. "Ahmad Jamal" (Ahmad Jamal)

Rock and Roll (3):
5. "Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel" (Duane Eddy)
11. "The Buddy Holly Story" (Buddy Holly/Crickets)
23. "For LP Fans Only" (Elvis Presley)

IZ ZAT SO? We now know there was no significant sales surge brought on by the 1959 Three Stars disaster.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, consider the UK Top 60 LPs for the week ending Sep. 10, 1977, a little over two weeks after Elvis died.

That week, Presley occupied 14 of the 60 available slots, establishing an all-time record that still stands:
1. "40 Greatest"
4. "Moody Blue"
7. "Welcome to My World"
12. "Elvis in Demand"
14. "G.I. Blues"
20. "The Elvis Presley Sun Collection"
21. "Elvis' Golden Records"
26. "Elvis at Madison Square Garden"
27. "Elvis' Gold Records, Vol. 2 (50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong)"
30. "Hits of the '70s"
37. "Blue Hawaii"
38. "From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee"
49. "Elvis' Golden Records, Vol. 3"
52. "Picture of Elvis"

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.

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page