DEAR JERRY: I've read many articles on Buddy Holly, particularly about his last performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. These stories always mention something about Frankie Sardo, whose act opened the show.
One story reports this was Sardo's last performance, claiming he literally disappeared that night after the show, and no one has seen him since.
I have found very little information about him, other than the titles of some of his songs. Can you tell me anything about what happened to Frankie Sardo after that bizarre night in Iowa?
Roger Brewster, Woodstock, Ga
DEAR ROGER: Your letter inspired me to dig out an image of a concert poster for the 1959 “Winter Dance Party” tour. Whether or not this poster actually came out at the time of the show, or was made later, is frequently debated, but that's another story.
On this placard, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts are pictured. Reference to a hit record by each artist is also made.
Frankie Sardo is mentioned at the bottom, in type the same size as the four headliners, but without a photo. He is labeled an “Extra Attraction,” along with a plug for his “New Hit.” However, the proofreader really flubbed, allowing Frankie's tune to be shown as “Take Out.” The correct title, as you may know, is “Fake Out” (ABC-Paramount 9963). Looking at the poster, one might have assumed his “new hit” to be about a “to go” order of chow mein.
Billboard's record reviewers ran a glowing endorsement for “Fake Out,” as well as its flip, “Class Room,” crediting both with potential. The magazine made this disc a “Spotlight Winner the Pick of the New Releases,” in their October 6, 1958 issue, saying:
“Sardo bows on the label [ABC-Paramount] with two strong readings. 'Fake Out' employs many phrases currently in vogue with teens. 'Class Room' is a breezy, topical theme that should also generate teen interest and attract teen coin. Both sides are rockers.”
Even with concert tour publicity and favorable trade magazine critiques, neither “Fake Out” nor “Class Room” landed a spot anywhere on the Top 100.
Regardless, Frankie Sardo did not disappear the day of the crash (February 3, 1959). He continued to record regularly through 1962, landing short-lived disc deals with Lido, 20th Century-Fox, Newtown, SG, Studio, and Rayna.
I have long wondered about the apparently arbitrary 2:30 to 3:30 length of pop songs. Is it because that was the maximum amount of time that could fit on a single record?
Looking back at old sheet music, it is apparent that most popular songs then had at least four stanzas, as well as a chorus, and would not fit into the three minute mold?
Also intriguing is that since the advent of the long play album, in 1948, the length of pop songs has pretty much stayed around the three minute mark. Why?
Paul Koko, Oak Park, Ill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DEAR Paul: Phonograph record manufacturing is not without time limitations; however, the two and one-half minute song is the result of broadcasting preferences.
The recording industry has long relied on radio stations to make their tunes known to a listening audience of potential buyers. Being able to play the maximum number of individual tracks became the essence of the Top 40 format.
Songs in the two to three minute range also allow for great flexibility in blending spots (commercials), newscasts, and other features in with the music.
Interestingly, some well known Holly tunes such as “Peggy Sue Got Married” (they even made of movie using this as the theme) and “True Love Ways” (remade by Peter & Gordon) didn't even sell well enough to make the Top 100.
The Big Bopper didn't fare well either, chartwise, as he had no hits after the crash.
Ritchie Valens did manage two hits posthumously. Both “That's My Little Suzie” and “Little Girl” charted in 1959, though neither made the Top 40.
Still, the overall significance of these three stars especially Buddy Holly far outstrips lack of chart appearances.