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BARRY LEVINE: Undeserving songs become big hits

THE OLD ROCKER: Part 2 of my list of turkey tunes for the 10 years starting 1955

Lorne Greene (Special photo)

Lorne Greene (Special photo)

This is the second of two parts about No. 1 hits in the early rock era that did not merit that recognition.

Approximately 20 months before the Beatles came to America to initiate the British Invasion, jazz clarinetist Aker Bilk, of Somerset, England, became the first Brit to have a No. 1 song in the United States when “Stranger on the Shore” climbed to the top. It unseated “Soldier Boy,” the Shirelles’ second No. 1 hit, in May 1962. “Stranger on the Shore” was Bilk’s only success in the U.S., as none of his other three singles landed in the Top 50. Aker, incidentally, is slang in England for “mate.” It seems only fitting that a Beatles’ song — any Beatles’ song — should have the honor of being the first from England to earn the No. 1 ranking.

After “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Albany’s Ray Charles reached No. 1 in June 1962, it was toppled by “The Stripper” by David Rose and his Orchestra. Incredibly, execs for MGM records used “The Stripper” as the “B” side for “Ebb Tide.” The studio wanted “Ebb Tide” recorded to help promote its movie “Sweet Bird of Youth,” starring Paul Newman, Geraldine Page and Ed Begley, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance. A Los Angeles DJ got a copy of the song and thought it would be more fun to play “The Stripper” than “Ebb Tide.” The song reached No. 1 in the Los Angeles market and then nationally.

We agree with the execs: It should have remained the “B” side. I still can’t comprehend how the music for a stripper would become the country’s top song.

“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt Kickers reached the top of the charts in October 1962, sandwiched between No. 1 hits “Sherry,” the Four Seasons’ first chart topper, and “He’s a Rebel,” the Crystals’ only top smash. Gary Paxton, one of the Crypt Kickers, produced “Monster Mash” and its plethora of unique sound effects. Paxton had his first hit, million-seller, “Cherry Pie,” as Skip of Skip and Flip in 1959. He then formed the Hollywood Argyles, whose “Alley-Oop” climbed to the top in 1960.

Four major labels passed on buying “Monster Mash” before London Records finally secured it. Pickett, who mimicked Boris Karloff’s voice on the record, notched his No. 1 hit, which radio stations still play annually around Halloween. An interesting song, yes, but a real music fan would prefer “Sherry” or “He’s a Rebel.”

Japan is among the world’s Top 5 record markets. Many English-speaking artists have fared well in Japan, and three Japanese performers enjoyed some success in the U.S. during the rock era. Japan native Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” climbed to the top slot in June 1963, topping Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party.” The song, ironically, was intentionally mistitled. The tune’s real title was “Ue O Muite Aruko,” which translates to “I Look Up When I Walk.” Capitol Records, which released the song in the United States, opted to change the name to make it sound more Japanese.

Music fans would usually sing the words to a No. 1 song. Do you remember anybody singing the lyrics to “Sukiyaki?” You’ve got to be able to sing the words on a real No. 1 vocal.

Lorne Greene starred as Ben Cartwright, the family’s patriarch on the classic western TV series “Bonanza,” which aired for 14 seasons. Greene had his only hit, “Ringo,” which was No. 1 in December 1964. “Ringo” supplanted “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las. Greene was the second Canadian to have a No. 1 U.S. hit, following 16-year-old Paul Anka, who scored with “Diana” in 1957.

Greene’s song was about a sheriff who saved the life of gunman Johnny Ringo. It was a hit, but it never should have reached No. 1. It simply wasn’t that good.

Many songs from the fabled British Invasion became classics. One song from the invasion that reached No. 1 that didn’t merit the recognition was “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie & The Dreamers, which reached the pinnacle in April 1965, unseating the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love.” Maybe my negative feelings about the song emanate from seeing Freddie Garrity, the group’s lead singer and a native of Manchester, England, jumping while “doing the Freddie” on American TV shows such as “Hullabaloo” and “Shindig.” And I am telling you now: It definitely did not deserve the No. 1 distinction.

Barry “The Old Rocker” Levine writes about entertainment for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com