BARRY LEVINE: Mixed gender groups record huge hits

THE OLD ROCKER: Just the right combination was chart-busting gold

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The Teddy Bears (Special Photo)

The most unusual combination of early rock ‘n’ roll groups was mix-genders of three or more members.

While the combinations were atypical, they certainly were successful. Seven mix-gender groups posted No. 1 hits from the beginning of the modern rock era in the summer of 1955 through 1963. While there were other outstanding mix-gender groups, most notably the Weavers, The Miracles and Peter, Paul and Mary, these seven were the only ones with at least one No. 1 hit during that period.

The first black group to have a No. 1 hit when “My Prayer” rose to the top in 1956, The Platters, a Los Angeles group, emulated the style of the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers, two renowned black singing groups.

With Tony Williams as the lead singer, the original Platters consisted of Herbert Reed, David Lynch, Alex Hodge and Zola Taylor.

“My Prayer” was the first of the group’s three No. 1 hits, preceding “Twilight Time” in 1958 and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” in 1959.

Overall, The Platters charted 22 songs, seven of which reached the Top 10.

A Los Angeles based trio, the Teddy Bears had one of the biggest hits in 1958 with “To Know Him is to Love Him.” The group, formed by the famous — and infamous — Phil Spector, had Annette Kleinbard as its lead vocalist.

Spector, then 17, wrote the song after he saw the phrase “To Know Him is to Love Him” on his father’s tombstone.

Coming to prominence in the early 1960s, Spector became one of the most distinctive producers in the history of rock music. The originator of the famous “Wall of Sound” production technique, Spector was a pioneer of the 1960s’ girl group sound and had more than 25 Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1965. In later years, he worked with various artists, including Ike and Tina Turner, The Beatles and Ramones with similar success.

Spector also produced records for The Ronettes, The Crystals, Curtis Lee, The Paris Sisters, Ray Peterson, Darlene Love, Ben E. King, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans.

In 2009, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, Calif., home. He is serving a 19-years-to-life prison sentence.

Kleinbard, who later changed her name to Carol Connors, gained fame for co-writing “Gonna Fly Now,” the Oscar-nominated theme for the 1976 hit movie “Rocky.”

The Fleetwoods, an Olympia, Wash., trio, consisted of Gretchen Christopher, Barbara Ellis and Gary Troxel and struck gold twice in 1959 when “Come Softly to Me” and “Mr. Blue” both reached No. 1. This marked the first time that a mix-gender group had a pair of No. 1 hits in the same calendar year.

They had another Top 10 hit in 1961 when “Tragedy,” a cover for a 1958 Thomas Wayne hit, reached No. 9. The group overall placed 11 songs in the Top 100.

The combination of Troxel fulfilling his military obligation and the beginning of the British Invasion virtually ended the Fleetwoods’ success.

The brother-sister trio of Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie Brown from Sparkman, Ark., were a folk/country group that had a No. 1 hit in 1959 with “The Three Bells.” It originally was called “Les Trois Cloches” and was recorded by French star Edith Piaf.

The group had three other Top 20 hits in 1959 — “Beyond the Shadow” at No. 11, “Scarlet Ribbons” at No. 7 and “The Old Lamplighter” at No. 20.

The Browns charted seven songs on the Top 100 before disbanding in 1968.

Erik Darling, formerly a member of The Tarriers and The Weavers, put together The Rooftop Singers in 1962, primarily to record an updated version of “Walk Right In,” originally done by Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers in 1929. Joining Darling in the group were Bill Svanoe and Lynne Taylor.

The Rooftop Singers’ only other Top 40 hit was “Top Cat,” which reached No. 20 in 1963.

Darling got his initial break in 1956 when The Tarriers, a group he helped form, had a Top 5 hit with their version of “The Banana Boat Song.” He left The Tarriers in 1958 to join The Weavers after Pete Seeger departed and he remained with The Weavers for four years.

An Akron, Ohio, group, Ruby & the Romantics, reached No. 1 with their first hit “Our Day Will Come” in 1962. Ruby Nash served as the lead singer with four male singers. The song has since been covered more than 60 times.

The group had two other Top 20 hits in 1962 — “Hey There Lonely Boy” at No. 5 and “My Summer Love” at No. 16.

The original members of the group remained intact from 1961 until they split in 1971.

The founding members of The Essex, Walter Vickers and Rodney Taylor, were members or the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa, Japan. After being transferred to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, they added fellow Marines Billy Hill and Rudolph Johnson as group members and then selected Anita Humes, another Marine, to serve as the lead singer.

The group’s first release, “Easier Said Than Done,” climbed to No. 1 in 1963. They had their only other Top 40 hit later in the year when “A Walking Miracle” reached No. 12.

Barry Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.