RESEARCH FROM THE MUSIC FROM THE 1950s and 1960s
As I have been saying all along, the 50’s and 60’s were simply loaded with musical talent. While I have already posted detailed bios of 85 groups or artists, after studying the Million Selling Records book, I want to add another 16 from the 1950s:
Frankie Avalon, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Connie Francis, Bill Haley & His Comets, Kingston Trio, Frankie Laine, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Lyman, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis, Patti Page, Little Richard, Frank Sinatra, Dodie Stevens, and The Four Aces (the respective biographies follow below).
Acknowledging this, I began a deep-dive into the million dollar sellers of the 1950s. There are 74 pages dedicated to this decade. From these pages, I took 42 pages of notes. I learned that between 1950-55 there were between 30-40 million dollar artists per year. Then, starting in 1956, this number goes up to 56-59 per year through 1959. These artists generated between 40-48 songs per year between 1950-55. Then, up to 78-105/year during the years 1956-59. The last trend I looked at was the number of No1 hits pet year. The highest year for No1 hits was 1958 with 22. The lowest was 1953 with only 5.
I plan do the same research for the 1960s in my next post. These artists may have not generated the same high volume of sales (with one exception: Bill Hayley and His Comets) but, due to their high quality of work, they also need to be recognized. I will include a photo and a link to one of their best songs. Here they are:
The Four Aces are an American male traditional pop music quartet, popular since the 1950s. Over the last half-century, the group amassed many gold records. Its million-selling signature tunes include “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” (https://youtu.be/GnDtxiNwDS8) (RQ 8), “Three Coins in a Fountain”, “Stranger in Paradise”, “Tell Me Why”, and “Its No Sin”. Other big sellers included “Shangri-La”, “Perfidia”, and “Sincerely”. The original members, responsible for every song made popular by the group, included Al Roberts, Dave Mahoney, Lou Silvestri, and Rosario “Sod” Vaccaro.
Frankie Avalon (born Francis Thomas Avallone; September 18, 1940) is an American actor, singer, and former teen idol. Avalon had 31 charting U.S. Billboard singles from 1958 to late 1962, including the Number One hits “Venus” (https://youtu.be/fakpqLDEQAo) (RQ 8) and “Why” in 1959.
Bill Haley & His Comets were an American tock and roll band, founded in 1952 and continued until Haley’s death in 1981. The band was also known as Bill Haley and the Comets. The original members of this group were Haley, pianist and accordion player Johnny Grande and steel guitarist Billy Williamson. Al Thompson was the group’s first bass player, followed by Al Rex and Marshall Lytle. From late 1954 to late 1956, the group placed nine singles in the Top 20, one of those a number one and three more in the Top Ten. The single “Rock Around the Clock” (https://youtu.be/ZgdufzXvjqw) (RQ 10) became the biggest selling rock and roll single in the history of the genre and retained that position for some years.
Nathaniel Adams Coles (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American singer and jazz pianist. He recorded 41 albums and over 100 songs that became hits on the pop charts. His hit singles include “Straighten Up and Fly Right” 1944 #8, “The Christmas Song” 1946, “Nature Boy” 1948 #1, “Mona Lisa 1950 #1 (https://youtu.be/NIDX18Xl16s) (RQ 8), “Frosty, The Snowman” 1950 #9, “Too Young” 1951 #1, “Unforgettable” 1951 #12, “Somewhere Along the Way” 1952 #8, “Answer Me, My Love” 1954 #6, “A Blossom Fell” 1955 #2, “If I May” 1955 #8, “Send for Me” 1957 #6, “Looking Back” 1958 #5, “Ramblin’ Rose” 1962 #2, “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” 1963 #6, “Unforgettable” 1991 (with daughter Natalie).
His trio was the model for small jazz ensembles that followed. Cole also acted in films and on television and performed on Broadway. He was the first African-American man to host an American television series. He was the father of singer-songwriter Natalie Cole (1950–2015).
Pierino Ronald “Perry” Como (May 18, 1912 – May 12, 2001) was an American singer, actor and television personality. During a career spanning more than half a century, he recorded exclusively for RCA Victor for 44 years, after signing with the label in 1943. “Mr. C.”, as he was nicknamed, sold millions of records (recorded 100’s) and pioneered a weekly musical variety television show. His song “Round and Round” (https://youtu.be/lz_B8JP2pA8) (RQ 10) is good example of the popularity for his singing voice. His weekly television shows and seasonal specials were broadcast throughout the world. In the official RCA Records Billboard magazine memorial, his life was summed up in these few words: “50 years of music and a life well lived. An example to all.”
Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero (December 12, 1937), better known as Connie Francis, is an American pop singer, former actress, and top-charting female vocalist of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although her chart success waned in the second half of the 1960s, Francis remained a top concert draw.
Francis considered a career in medicine and was about to accept a four-year scholarship offered at New York University. At what was to have been her final recording session for MGM on October 2, 1957 with Joe Lipman and his orchestra, she recorded a cover version of the 1923 song “Who’s Sorry Now?” (https://youtu.be/EIRuqRNKvoQ) (RQ 10), written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Francis has said that she recorded it at the insistence of her father, who was convinced it stood a chance of becoming a hit because it was a song adults already knew and that teenagers would dance to if it had a contemporary arrangement.
Francis, who did not like the song and had been arguing about it with her father heatedly, delayed the recording of the two other songs during the session so much, that in her opinion, no time was left on the continuously running recording tape. Her father insisted, though, and when the recording “Who’s Sorry Now?” was finished, only a few seconds were left on the tape.
The single seemed to go unnoticed like all previous releases, just as Francis had predicted, but on January 1, 1958, it debuted on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and on February 15 of that same year, Francis performed it on the first episode of The Saturday night Beechnut Show, also hosted by Clark. By mid-year, over a million copies had been sold, and Francis was suddenly launched into worldwide stardom. In April 1958, “Who’s Sorry Now?” reached number 1 on the UK Singles Chart and number 4 in the US. For the next four years, Francis was voted the “Best Female Vocalist” by American Bandstand viewers.
The Kingston Trio is an American folk and pop music group that helped launch the folk revival of the late 1950s to late 1960s. The group started as a San Francisco Bay Area nightclub act with an original lineup of Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds. It rose to international popularity fueled by unprecedented sales of LP records and helped alter the direction of popular music in the U.S.
The Kingston Trio was one of the most prominent groups of the era’s pop-folk boom that started in 1958 with the release of their first album and its hit recording of “Tom Dooley” ( https://youtu.be/VhXuO4Gz3Wo) (RQ 9), which sold over three million copies as a single. The Trio released nineteen albums that made Billboard’s Top 100, fourteen of which ranked in the top 10, and five of which hit the number 1 spot. Four of the group’s LPs charted among the 10 top-selling albums for five weeks in November and December 1959,a record unmatched for more than 50 years, and the group still ranks in the all-time lists of many of Billboards cumulative charts, including those for most weeks with a number 1 album, most total weeks charting an album, most number 1 albums, most consecutive number 1 albums, and most top ten albums.
In 1961, the Trio was described as “the most envied, the most imitated, and the most successful singing group, folk or otherwise, in all show business” and “the undisputed kings of the folksinging rage by every yardstick”. The Trio’s massive record sales in its early days made acoustic folk music commercially viable, paving the way for singer-songwriter, folk rock, and Americana artists who followed in their wake.
Frankie Laine (born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio; March 30, 1913 – February 6, 2007) was an American singer, songwriter, and actor whose career spanned nearly 75 years, from his first concerts in 1930 with a marathon dance company to his final performance of “That’s My Desire” in 2005. Often billed as “America’s Number One Song Stylist”, his other nicknames include “Mr. Rhythm”, “Old Leather Lungs”, and “Mr. Steel Tonsils”. His additional hits from the 1950’s included: “That Luck Old Sun”, “Mule Train”, “Jezebel”, “High Noon”, “Save Your Sorrow”, “I Believe”(https://youtu.be/–j7wvtOi1s) (RQ 10), Hey Joe!“, “The Kid’s Last Fight”, “Cool Water”, “Rawhide”, and “Lord, You Gave Me a Mountain”
Jerry Lee Lewis (born September 29, 1935) is an American singer, musician, and pianist, often known by his nickname, The Killer. He has been described as “rock & roll’s first great wild man and one of the most influential pianists of the twentieth century.” A pioneer of rock and roll and rockabilly music, Lewis made his first recordings in 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis. “Crazy Arms” sold 300,000 copies in the South, but it was his 1957 hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” (https://youtu.be/1dC0DseCyYE) (RQ 7) that shot Lewis to fame worldwide. He followed this with “Great Balls of Fire” (https://youtu.be/0VJ1NuAbEBI) (RQ 10+), “Breathless” and “High School Confidential”. However, Lewis’s rock and roll career faltered in the wake of his marriage to Mrya Gale Brown, his 13-year-old cousin.
Franklin Joseph Lymon (September 30, 1942– February 27, 1968) was an American rock and roll rhythm and blues singer and songwriter, best known as the boy soprano lead singer of the New York City-based early rock and roll group The Teenagers. The group was composed of five boys, all in their early to mid-teens. The original lineup of the Teenagers, an integrated group, included three African-American members, Frankie Lymon, Jimmy Merchant and Sherman Garnes; and two Puerto Rican members, Joe Negroni and Herman Santiago. The Teenagers’ first single, 1956’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (https://youtu.be/q96ylFiQK_I) (RQ 6) was also their biggest hit. After Lymon went solo in mid-1957, both his career and that of the Teenagers fell into decline. He was found dead at the age of 25 on the floor of his grandmother’s bathroom from a heroin overdose. His life was dramatized in the 1998 film Why Do Fools Fall in Love.
Dean Martin (born Dino Paul Crocetti; June 7, 1917 – December 25, 1995) was an American actor, singer and comedian. One of the most popular and enduring American entertainers of the mid-20th century, Martin was nicknamed “The King of Cool” for his seemingly effortless charisma and self-assurance.
Martin established himself as a notable singer, recording numerous contemporary songs as well as standards from the Great American Songbook. He became one of the most popular acts in Las Vegas and was known for his friendship with fellow artists Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., who together formed the Rat Pack.
Starting in 1965, Martin was the host of the television variety program The Dean Martin Show which centered on Martin’s singing talents and was characterized by his relaxed, easy-going demeanor. From 1974 to 1984, he was roastmaster on the popular Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, which drew notable celebrities, comedians and politicians. Throughout his career, Martin performed in concert stages, nightclubs, audio recordings and appeared in 85 film and television productions. His relaxed, warbling, crooning voice earned him dozens of hit singles, including his signature songs “Memories Are Made of This”, “That’s Amore” (https://youtu.be/OnFlx2Lnr9Q) (RQ 10), “Everybody Loves Somebody”, “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You”, “Seay”, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” and “Volare”.
John Royce Mathis (born September 30, 1935) is an American singer-songwriter of popular music. Starting his career with singles of standard music, he became highly popular as an album artist, with several dozen of his albums achieving gold or platinum status and 73 making the Billboard Charts to date. Mathis has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three separate recordings.
Mathis has recorded 73 studio albums, 18 of which achieved sales of 500,000 units and were awarded Gold certification by RIAA. Five of his greatest hits albums also accomplished this, and of these 18 Gold albums, six eventually went Platinum by reaching sales of one million copies. In 1999, sales figures totaled five million for his first holiday LP, Merry Christmas, and three million for Johnny’s Greatest Hits, a 1958 collection that has been described as the “original greatest-hits package” and once held the record for most weeks on Billboard magazine’s album chart with a total of 490 (three of which were spent at number one). His second longest album chart run was the 295 weeks belonging to his Platinum 1959 album Heavenly, which gave him five weeks in the top spot. In a ranking of the top album artists of the last half of the 1950s in terms of Billboard chart performance, he comes in at number two, for the 1960s, number 10, and for the period from 1955 to 2009 he is at number six.
Mathis also recorded 43 songs that reached Billboard magazine’s Hit 100 chart in the United States and another nine that “bubbled under” the Hot 100. Six of these 52 recordings made the top 10, including 1957’s “Chances Are” (https://youtu.be/NEH3uqbpsm8) (RQ 10) and the 1978 Denise Williams duet, “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”, which each spent a week at number one, and 32 of them are also on the list of 50 entries that Mathis had on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, which was started in 1961. 19 of those 50 songs made the top 10 on that list. Two of them: “I’m Coming Home” and “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” (https://youtu.be/bPkK1CNPtjk) (RQ9) went on to number one. The Williams duet also spent four weeks at number one on the magazine’s R&B chart and was certified Gold after selling one million copies.
Clara Ann Fowler (November 8, 1927 – January 1, 2013), known by her stage name Patti Page, was an American singer of pop and country music and occasional actress. She was the top-charting female vocalist and best-selling female artist of the 1950s, selling over 100 million records during a six-decade long career. She was often introduced as “the Singin’ Rage, Miss Patti Page”. New York WNEW disc-jockey WillIam B. Williams introduced her as “A Page in my life called Patti”.
Page signed with Mercury Records in 1947, and became their first successful female artist, starting with 1948’s “Confess”. In 1950, she had her first million-selling single “With My Ryes Wide Open I’m Dreaming”, and would eventually have 14 additional million-selling singles between 1950 and 1965. Page’s signature song, “Tennessee Waltz” (https://youtu.be/-XCvfy6Huyc) (RQ 8), was one of the biggest-selling singles of the 20th century, and is recognized today as one of the official songs of the state of Tennessee. It spent 13 weeks atop the Billboard’s Magazine Best-Sellers List in 1950/51. Page had three additional No. 1 hit singles between 1950 and 1953, “All My Love”, “I Went To Your Wedding”, and “How much Is That Doggie in the Window”.
Richard Wayne Penniman (December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020), known as Little Richard, was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. He was an influential figure in popular music and culture for seven decades. Nicknamed “The Innovator, The Originator, and the Architect of Rock and Roll”, Richard’s most celebrated work dates from the mid-1950s, when his charismatic showmanship and dynamic music, characterized by frenetic piano playing, pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals, laid the foundation for rock and roll. Richard’s innovative emotive vocalizations and uptempo rhythmic music also played a key role in the formation of other popular music genres, including soul and funk. He influenced numerous singers and musicians across musical genre from rock to hip hop; his music helped shape rhythm and blues for generations. “Tutti Frutti” (https://youtu.be/F13JNjpNW6c) (RQ 10), one of Richard’s signature songs and became an instant hit, crossing over to the pop charts in both the United States and overseas in the United Kingdom. His next hit single in 1956, “Long Tall Sally” (https://youtu.be/eFFgbc5Vcbw) (RQ 10) hit No. 1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart, followed by a rapid succession of fifteen more in less than three years.
Francis Albert Sinatra (December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998) was an American singer, actor and producer who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time having sold more than 150 million records worldwide. He recorded 57 studio albums.
One of his best songs that featured his famous crooning voice was “Young at Heart” (https://youtu.be/BG7suS4YJWk) (RQ 10+) is a pop standard, a ballad with music by Johnny Richards and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh. The song was written and published in 1953, with Leigh contributing the lyrics to what was originally a Richards instrumental called “Moonbeam”. Sinatra was the first performer to record the song, which became a million-selling hit in 1953 (and spilling over with popularity into 1954) where it reached the No. 2 spot in the Billboard charts. The song was such a hit that a movie that Sinatra was filming at the same time with Doris Day was renamed to match the song title, and the song was included in the opening and closing credits of the movie (one of 45 movies he acted in).
Dodie Stevens (born Geraldine Ann Pasquale, February 17, 1946) is an American and popsinger. She is best known for her 1959 song “Pink Shoe Laces” (https://youtu.be/WGgaZZl_GVg) (RQ 8). It debuted at #96 on the Billboard Hot 100 when Stevens was one day short of 13 years old, and eventually peaked at #3.
Stevens married at the age of sixteen and moved to Missouri to live on a farm. A few years later, she had a daughter, Stephanie. Soon thereafter, in 1966, she ended her marriage and resumed her singing career. In 1969, she once again appeared in the Billboard charts, peaking at #117 pop, #57 country, with “Billy, I’ve Got to Go to Town” (https://youtu.be/Ys-enA8Jsrw) (RQ 6) recorded under the name Geraldine Stevens. She took additional vocal lessons and in 1972 began appearing and recording with Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’77. In the ensuing years she toured as a backup singer with such recording artists as Loretta Lynn, Frankie Avalon, and Boz Scaggs, and for twelve years with Mac Davis. In the 1990s, as Geri Stevens, she toured with Fabian and her own company “Dodie Stevens and The Pink Shoe Laces Review.” Recently, she has performed with her daughter Stephanie and appeared at oldies concerts across the country. She also teaches singing and stage performance out of her studio in San Diego County.