1959 Ray Peterson – The Wonder Of You
Ray Peterson was born in Texas in 1939 and had to overcome a bout with polio. He developed a four-octave singing range and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a singing career. He began recording for RCA Victor in 1957 and released six consecutive singles that failed to reach the Hot 100.
Vince Edwards, a star of the television show Ben Casey, recorded The Wonder Of You in 1957, but his record company never released it. In fact, it would be 1962 before they released any of his recordings. RCA released Ray’s recording of the song in 1959, and his single reached #25 on the Hot 100. The record did even better in Australia, where it peaked at #9. RCA re-released Ray’s version in 1964, but it only reached #70 the second time around.
Jesse Belvin’s recording of Goodnight My Love reached the top ten on the R&B chart in 1956, but the record failed to reach the Hot 100. Ray’s second release in 1959 was his cover of Jesse’s single. While it made it onto the Hot 100, it only got as high as #64.
Ray had a real tragedy with his next hit in 1960. It wasn’t Ray, but the teenagers in the song who suffered: the single Tell Laura I Love Her was one of the biggest teenage death songs in the early sixties. Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh wrote a song about a teenager who lost his life by entering a rodeo, but the record company looked at the success of Teen Angel and insisted on a rewrite. The new lyrics sent him into a fatal stock car race instead. Ray’s single skidded into the top ten. Somebody at Decca Records in the UK got offended by the record, and they destroyed 25,000 copies of the record rather than release it. EMI released a cover by Ricky Valance and it topped the UK chart for three weeks.
After that drama, Ray started his own record company, Dunes Records. The song Corrina, Corrina was first written in 1928. Big Joe Turner had a #2 R&B hit with the song in 1956 that only reached #41 on the Hot 100. Ray hired Phil Spector to produce a cover version of the song and that gave him his second top ten record in 1961.
When no other hits materialized for Ray, he tried another teenage tragedy song. This time it was a song written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Give Us Your Blessing. The single only reached #70 before falling off the chart. The Shangri-Las covered the song with a slight title change to Give Us Your Blessings in 1965 and their single reached #29.
Ray’s career found him singing in nightclubs for a decade. He became good friends with Elvis, who later released his own version of The Wonder Of You and reached #9 in the US and topped the charts in the UK and Ireland.
In the seventies, Ray became a Baptist minister. He recorded a Christian folk album in 1981. He still sang at oldies shows from time to time until his death from cancer in 2005.
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