Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I found very interesting your mention of “I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive” being the current hit single for Hank Williams at the time of his death. How ironic.

This got me wondering about other top singing stars who were taken before their time. How many besides Hank Williams had a song with a poignant title on the charts when they died?

Let's limit the list to pre-1990, since in more recent years many of those rap idiots have taken to killing each other.

How about Buddy Holly? When he was killed, I think his hit was “It Doesn't Matter Anymore.”
—Melvin Seville, Pulaski, Tenn.

DEAR MELVIN: Very few deceased stars even had a chart hit the day they died, much less a poignant one.

Besides Hank Williams, who died January 1, 1953 at just 29, I came up with 10 others who did not live long enough to grow old.

Each of these had a single on the national charts the day of their passing.

A title one person interprets as ironic, another may not. So I will just provide a listing (alphabetical by artist with date of death and then-current hit) and let readers attach their own significance:

Patsy Cline (3/5/63): “Leavin' on Your Mind;” Hawkshaw Hawkins (3/5/63): “Lonesome 7-7203;” Johnny Horton (11/5/60): “North to Alaska;” John Lennon (12/8/80): (Just Like) Starting Over;” Jim Reeves (7/31/64): “I Guess I'm Crazy;” Marty Robbins (12/8/82): “Tie Your Dream to Mine;” Elvis Presley (8/16/77): “Way Down;” Mel Street (10/21/78): “Just Hangin' On;” Richie Valens (2/3/59): “Donna,” and Chuck Willis (4/10/58): “Betty and Dupree.”

Not included are those whose passing came in their senior years, or several years after their string of hits ended.

In the latter category are some singers you may have thought belonged in the group above, but do not meet the criteria:

Karen Carpenter; Harry Chapin; Eddie Cochran; Nat King Cole; Sam Cooke; Bobby Darin; John Denver; Marvin Gaye; Donnie Hathaway; Dean Martin; Janis Joplin; Otis Redding; Tammi Terrell; Conway Twitty; Dinah Washington; and Tammy Wynette.

Two that just missed the cut are Buddy Holly and Jim Croce, both killed in plane crashes.

Holly's “It Doesn't Matter Anymore” charted nearly three weeks after Buddy died, and Croce's “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” dropped off the charts just five days before Jim's plane went down. About three weeks after Chuck Willis died, he charted with “What Am I Living For.”

Also omitted are individual group members who did not also chart solo (Jim Morrison-Doors, Terry Kath-Chicago, etc.) and solo stars who just happened to be on the charts as part of a group when they died (Roy Orbison-Traveling Wilburys).

DEAR JERRY: My question is about the Five Stairsteps. I have on a compilation CD their version of the Beatles song “Dear Prudence,” which is really very good.

When did they record this song?

Was this is one of their album tracks, or is it a B-side of one of their 45s?
—Kevin Johnson, Binghamton, N.Y.

DEAR KEVIN: Neither. “Dear Prudence” is a single, but not the B-side.

This tune became a hit for the Five Stairsteps in early 1970 (Buddah 165), just a little over a year after “Dear Prudence” first appeared on the Beatles self-titled “White Album.”

Five years later, a New England group named Katfish issued “Dear Prudence,” also with only moderate success.

Among the more memorable Five Stairsteps hits are “O-o-h Child; From Us to You;” and “World of Fantasy.”

IZ ZAT SO? Of the 10 stars listed above as having a chart hit at the time of their death, not a one held the No. 1 spot that day.

It nearly happened with Elvis. Just four days after he died (8/16/77), “Way Down” hit No. 1 on the Country charts.

When the plane carrying Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper crashed (2/3/59), Valens was the only one aboard with a current chart hit. On that heartbreaking day, “Donna” held the No. 3 position.

The focus of this topic is clearly single hits, but worth noting is that Jim Reeves is the only one of this pack to die while having a No. 1 album. The day he lost his life, “Moonlight and Roses” topped the C&W LP charts.

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