From the beginning of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era in 1955 through 1962, female solo singers enjoyed limited success.
Only Connie Francis, Brenda Lee and Aretha Franklin, who had their first Top 40 hits during that span, had long, distinguished careers. The trio combined for more than 100 Top 40 hits, eight of which reached No. 1.
Excluding the three, only five other female singers had No. 1 hits during that period and none had more than one. The quintet are Kay Starr, “Rock and Roll Waltz,” 1956; Gogi Grant, “The Wayward Wind,” 1956; Debbie Reynolds, “Tammy,” 1957; Shelley Fabares, “Johnny Angel,” 1962; and Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion,” 1962. The five had only moderate success, combining for 15 Top 40 hits.
Yet, young male soloists prospered during that same period.
It started with Elvis Presley and Pat Boone and continued with heartthrobs Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Darin, Dion and Bobby Vee among others.
Why did the male soloists fare so much successful than their female counterparts?
S.J. (Sam Montel) Montalbano, who more spent than a half century in the rock ’n’ roll industry, doing everything from owning a record company (Montel Records) to serving as Jimmy Clanton’s road manager to hosting a weekly radio show, has a simple explanation as to why more male soloists were successful.
While Mantalbano served as Clanton’s road manager, the young singer had three Top 10 hits,” Just A Dream” in 1958, “Go, Jimmy Go” in 1959 and “Venus in Blue Jeans” in 1962.
Elected to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2012, Montalbano says it was because of the young girls.
“Girls bought the records and they called the radio stations telling the DJs what records they wanted to hear. The girls definitely wanted records by the boys,” the Baton Rouge, La., native said. “When we held a dance or sock hop where stars would appear during that period, about 65 percent of the kids who attended were girls.”
Montalbano ran Montel Records from 1957 through 1972 and his label had the nation’s No. 1 hit with “I’m Leaving It Up to You” by Dale and Grace in November 1963. Under Montalbano’s astute guidance, the duo had another Top 10 hit in March 1964 with “Stop and Think It Over.”
“It was a lot easier for us to plan songs aimed for the female audience because we knew what they wanted to hear,” Montalbano explained. “Most of the fans during the 1950s and early 1960s were females and they were quite outspoken: They would spend money on male singers and that definitely factored into what would sell. … Basically, the young females controlled the rock ‘n’ roll business without realizing it.”
Among his other stars were John Fred & His Playboy Band whose “Judy in Disguise” rose to the top of the charts in 1967. The group’s first hit, “Shirley,” made the Billboard charts in 1959. “Judy in Disguise,” however, was recorded on another label. The song was a parody of the Beatles’ hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Fred’s father, John Gourrier, who played in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system from 1931 to 1935, was strongly opposed to his son pursuing a music career and tried to get him motivated to follow his outstanding basketball and baseball abilities. As most teenagers, he didn’t heed his father’s advice.
According to Montalbano, the period from 1955 to 1962 was an uncertain time in the music industry.
“Black music was becoming more and more popular and some considered it a cultural threat,” Montalbano explained. “One black artist who was considered ‘acceptable’ was Fats Domino. He was the least offensive to certain white audiences because he sang simple songs with no sexual connotations.”
A legendary R&B singer/songwriter and pianist, Domino was heavily influenced by Fats Waller and Albert Ammons. During his glittering career, the New Orleans native had 39 Top 40 hits, 11 of which landed in the Top 10. His biggest hit was “Blueberry Hill” which rose to No. 2 in October 1956.
Pat Boone, known for his trademark white bucks, covered several of Domino’s hits including “Ain’t That A Shame” which jumped to No. 1. in 1955. Boone also covered two of Little Richard’s big hits, “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” in 1956.
To one and all: The merriest of Christmas seasons.
Barry Levine writes about entertainment for The Albany Herald. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.