Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: In January, XM's '60s channel played the Top 3 hits for that same week 47 years ago (1961), which turned out to be: No. 1 “Winter Wonderland”; No. 2 “Theme from Exodus”; No. 3 “Calcutta.”

What is so amazing is all of the Top 3 are instrumentals!

Has there ever been another time during the Rock Era when the Top 3, or perhaps even more, were instrumentals?
—Roger Shephard, Mt. Vernon, Ind.

DEAR ROGER: No sir, which makes the third week of January 1961 unique in music history.

Here are the correct titles of those wordless wonders, along with those who made them famous:

1. “Wonderland By Night” (Bert Kaempfert and His Orchestra). 2. “Exodus” (Ferrante and Teicher). 3. “Calcutta” (Lawrence Welk and His Orchestra). Both of the other two also spent at least one week at No. 1 that month on either Billboard or Cash Box.

Though an earlier era, during the orchestrally dominated 1930s and '40s, the entire Top 10 would at times be by Dance Bands and Big Bands.

Yet for the '50s and later, finding even two instrumentals at the top is a real rarity.

Other than the January '61 occurrence described above, it happened just once.

When St. Patrick's Day arrived in 1956, the lucky Top 2 were: 1. “Lisbon Antigua” (Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra); 2. “The Poor People of Paris” (Les Baxter and Orchestra).

For four weeks these remained the Top 2, though the following week (March 24) they just switched positions.

DEAR JERRY: The last time I heard “Love Me Tender,” I noticed how little instrumentation is heard. Besides Presley's vocal, there is nothing but the subtle strumming of an acoustic guitar. It's practically a cappella.

My thoughts then turned to another classic hit, Peggy Lee's “Fever,” also with very sparse orchestration.

What instruments are behind Peggy on that recording?
—Lisa Edgewater, Madison, Wisc.

DEAR LISA: Peggy Lee's backing on “Fever” consists of only slightly more instruments than “Love Me Tender” — exactly two.

There is only a stand-up bass and a set of bongo drums, making for a nearly deserted studio.

But, “Is that all there is?”

Well, not exactly. There is one other bit of accompaniment prominently heard on “Fever,” that doesn't involve the musicians union: Peggy Lee's finger-snapping.

Funny you mentioned Elvis in this regard, since his version of “Fever” features nearly identical backing, and is just as close to a cappella as Peggy's.

DEAR JERRY: I have Paul McCartney's “Unplugged” album from the '90s. The problem is that one of the songs, “San Francisco Bay Blues,” is driving me crazy.

Every time I hear it, my mind flashes back to when I first heard Paul and the Beatles, probably 1964.

Someone had a popular version of this song then, which I loved but have not heard since.

Any idea who dunnit?
—Dolores Levy, St. Louis, Mo.

DEAR DOLORES: Yes. Glenn Yarbrough dunnit.

His “San Francisco Bay Blues” is the B-side of “The Honey Wind Blows” (RCA Victor 47-8366), and both got plenty of spins in the summer of '64 — while the British Invasion peaked.

This single, with two excellent sides, ranks among that summer's best buys for a buck, despite not being labeled “Recorded in England.”

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