The Belmonts originally formed as a trio from the Bronx in 1955 or so. They initially recorded unsuccessfully for the small Mohawk record label. Dion DiMucci was also recording for Mohawk and not having any better luck. The four singers formed a group that was billed as Dion With the Belmonts and released a single that did not fare any better.
The group moved to the Laurie record label and billed as Dion and the Belmonts finally started hitting the charts with I Wonder Why in 1958. The group had two top ten records and four other top forty records before Dion split away from the group. Stories about the cause of the break-up include desires to do different styles of music, but it’s more likely that Dion’s heroin addiction was at least partly to blame.
Dion stayed with Laurie Records, while the Belmonts moved to the Sabrina Record label. Usually, when the lead singer splits from a group, it’s the lead singer who has the next big record. Dion’s first single after the breakup, Lonely Teenager, went to #12 in late 1960, but his next two singles did not do well at all.
Meanwhile, in the Spring of 1961, the Belmont’s recording of Tell Me Why reached the top twenty. The Belmont’s third single got inside the top thirty, but none of their other records even reached the top forty again.
Dion got connected with Ernie Maresca and the two wrote the chart-topping song Runaround Sue. Eleven more top forty records followed in the next two years before the Beatles and the British Invasion left both Dion and the Belmonts in the dust. The group reformed briefly in 1966, but it was too late for their styles of music.
Dion returned to the charts in 1968 with Abraham, Martin, and John; after that, the various members of the group toured together and/or separately on the oldie circuit.
When I was growing up in the fifties, the older music that my parents often had playing on radios and in the car was primarily from the forties and early fifties. Joel Whitburn’s Record Research books break popular music into a few simple eras:
- prior to 1940
Statistical reasons lead me to stop the last era at about 1991 and add a new era due to the rise of streaming; the changes in chart activity since the death of singles is significant.
The tenth most successful artist in the middle era is all but forgotten now: Dinah Shore. Since she was turned away from most big bands of the early forties, Dinah went it alone and became one of the first successful solo artists. From 1940 to 1955 she amassed 3 number one singles, 29 more top ten singles, and at least another 20 top twenty singles.
If she is recognized at all now it’s either because of her long history of successful television shows or her affair with Burt Reynolds in the seventies. She did have five top forty singles from 1955 to 1957. Her last record to reach those heights was I’ll Never Say “Never Again” Again. That single reached up to #24 in 1957. Listening to it now, I can easily sing along, but something about the record just doesn’t seem completely familiar…it took a bit of digging, but I finally figured out why: blame Ozzie Nelson. Before he and his family had a television show, before he and his wife had their movie, even before they had their radio show, Ozzie was a bandleader and singer! In 1935, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra recorded the song and it got into the top five on the charts.
Somehow, I feel a lot older than I did when I started searching for a lost or forgotten oldie this afternoon.
D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith) released their first single while Will was still in High School, Girl’s Ain’t Nothing But Trouble. The song sampled the theme song from I Dream of Jeannie. That choice turned out to be a little bit of trouble as well. It ended well for the duo when Jive Records signed them to their label. Their first album for Jive did not produce any standout singles, but their second album made them superstars.
The first single from He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper was Parents Just Don’t Understand. The video for the single went into heavy rotation and the disc was awarded a gold record. Their second single was A Nightmare On My Street, which got up to #15 before it stumbled.
For years fans debated the existence of a video for Nightmare that included cameos by Richard Englund, the original Freddy from the Nightmare on Elm Street films. It has been reported that New Line Cinema sued over the video, causing it to vanish for a few decades. In 2018 a video resurfaced on YouTube. The video clearly looks like it was made in 1988. While it does not feature Robert Englund, it does include footage that might well be from some unnamed horror films…and it does mention Elm Street in the rap and refer to a monster with claws as Fred. Big warnings at the start and end of the video inform viewers that it has nothing to do with the Nightmare films, the same kind of warnings that were on the album.
A reworded version of Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble was released next, and a year later the group put out I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson, but neither record got any higher than the bottom half of the Hot 100.
The duo had their biggest hit with Summertime in 1991 and followed that up with a few more singles that reached the top twenty. Will Smith went on to a solo career in television, movies, and music, but the original duo still performs in public from time to time.
The Hooters formed in 1980, taking their name from a nickname for an instrument. The melodica is prominently featured in some of their songs and videos, and the name has nothing to do with the restaurant chain (or anything that chain might be named after).
The group played shows in small clubs for years before breaking up and reforming with a slightly different line-up in 1983. They recorded their first album but did not reach the charts with any of the three singles they released.
The two remaining original members of the group (Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian) helped with the creation of Cyndi Lauper’s first album. They played various instruments (including the hooter!) and sang backup vocals and did some of the arrangement. As a result, the Hooters signed a contract with Columbia Records and began work on their second album, Nervous Night. That album included reworked versions of their first three singles and the release of the new version of All You Zombies got the group some attention. Their follow-up single, And We Danced, did even better, getting up to #21 on the pop chart and #3 on the Mainstream Rock chart in 1985. Videos followed for the singles and found their way onto MTV. The group also performed live at the Amnesty International concert.
Day By Day was the third single from the album and that release did slightly better. Over the next two years, they released two more albums and a stack of singles, but sales and airplay became a difficult challenge. The members did continue working in the music field together and separately for a few more decades.
Nigel Olssen played in a lot of almost successful bands in the late sixties. He recorded a single in the group Argosy (that also included Reginald Dwight), played in the band Uriah Heep, and worked in a reformed Spencer Davis Group with bassist Dee Murray long after Steve Winwood had left the group.
That Reginald Dwight fellow? He started using the name Elton John. In 1970, he hired Nigel and Dee to play in his touring band and shortly thereafter hired Davey Johnstone as a guitarist. Those three eventually became Elton’s studio musicians for several exceptional albums in the early seventies. In 1975, Elton replaced Nigel and Dee.
Nigel did a lot of studio work as well as a pair of solo albums. The 1975 album, Nigel, faded quickly. In 1978 he worked with producer Paul Davis, and the result was a second album that was also named Nigel. The first single from the album, Dancing Shoes, was a minor hit that reached #18 in early 1979. Nigel appeared on American Bandstand to promote the single.
The second single release from the album was A Little Bit Of Soap. The song got to #12 in 1961 for the Jarmels, and in 1970 Paul Davis released the song as a solo artist and got as high as #52. Perhaps when he produced Nigel’s album, Paul saw a second chance to succeed with the song…but Nigel’s version only got up to #34. After that, Nigel’s solo charting was finished.
Elton must have had a change of heart because in 1980 he brought Nigel and Dee back into his group. That time the partnership remained for a longer time: Nigel had played in over 2200 concerts with Elton by 2017.
The 5th Dimension were five very talented singers who got very lucky in 1966 after being together for less than a year: they were signed by Johnny Rivers to record for his new label. Rivers produced their first album and brought in some of the Wrecking Crew to play background instruments for them…as well as the keyboard player, arranger, and conductor, a young Jimmy Webb. They covered Go Where You Wanna Go (a song from the first Manas and Papas album) and had some success starting with their very first single.
Their second single, Another Day Another Heartache, was written by P. F. Sloan and recorded with the same crew. The single first jumped onto the charts the last week of April 1967. It continued to move up the next week, and each of the two weeks after that the record moved up enough to get a star each week. The next week the record seemed to stall, only moving up a few notches to #45. A peek at the records bubbling under reveals the reason why!
Shortly after the second single from the group was released, the group’s first album was released in May. The album was named for the first song on side one, Up, Up and Away, a song written by Jimmy Webb. Naturally, disk jockeys and music directors dropped the album on turntables to give it a listen, and the response was immediate: demand for a single version of the tune was deafening. Even though Another Day Another Heartache was still climbing up the charts, the record company released the third single. The last week their second single went higher on the charts was the week that Up, Up and Away appeared at #125 and began its run towards the top.
The next week, Another Day Another Heartache dropped over twenty places and Up, Up and Away moved up 42 positions. A few weeks later their third release reached the top ten; the group’s second single’s airplay and sales were ruined by the premature release of their third single!
The 5th Dimension and Jimmy Webb recorded another album together in 1967, and lasting careers were had by all.
While American’s associate Petula Clark with her number one smash from 1965, Downtown, her career started much earlier. My first grasp of the length of her career came when I was browsing through CDs in Chicago in 1989 and found a two CD collection of her greatest hits that had literally dozens of songs listed that came out before Downtown.
Petula was singing on radio broadcasts at the age of nine and released her first single (Put Your Shoes On Lucy) in 1949. Her first chart record in the UK was The Little Shoemaker, which jumped into the British top ten in 1954. She began recording in French, German, and Italian in addition to English and had occasional hit records in Europe as well as the UK.
Lolita recorded the German language record that was a huge hit in Germany. A spoken word English overdub was added to the middle of the song and Sailor, Your Home Is the Sea became a top ten record in the US in late 1960. Petula recorded a fully English version of the song and Sailor became her first number one record in the UK in early 1961…but the American market continued to completely ignore her.
Downtown was released in multiple languages in 1964 and became part of the British Invasion that followed the Beatles overseas. One additional number one release (My Love) and over a dozen top forty records followed in the US. Her streak of top forty records finally ended in 1968. Her last record to reach the top twenty was the bittersweet tune Kiss Me Goodbye, which got as high as #15.
An unusual live performance that year was on Italian television; she sang most of the song in Italian, but when she got to the title of the song it came out in English.