1961 was a standout is for the amazing, sheer array of talent and great music that came out.
Notable debuts were:
Ben E. King, The Shirelles, Gene Pitney, Gene McDaniels, Bob Dylan, The Crystals, Judy Collins, Adam Wade, Faron Young, Timi Yuro, The Marvelettes, Gladys Knight and The Pips (known as “The Pips” at this time), Ray Stevens, Del Shannon, The Angels, Maxine Brown, James Darren, Joey Dee and The Starliters, Dick and Dee Dee, Sue Thompson, James Ray, Linda Scott, The Dovells, Barbara George, The Impressions, Chuck Jackson, The Jive Five, Chris Kenner, The Lettermen, Bobby Lewis, The Jarmels, Little Caesar and the Romans, John D. Loudermilk, Johnny Maestro (former Crests lead singer), Barry Mann, The Marcels, The Mar-Keys, The Belmonts (without Dion), Lee Dorsey, The Miracles, Hayley Mills (singingdebut) ,Tony Orlando, The Paris Sisters, Shep and the Limelites, The Spinners, Carla Thomas, The Tokens, The Vibrations, Solomon Burke, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, The Highwaymen, and The Smothers Brothers.
The Marcels, one of the all-time great vocal groups, were named for a popular hair style of the time. They were also one of the first integrated groups, but became an all-black one after “Heartaches.” Led by Cornelius Harp, with Fred Johnson as that distinctive bass voice, the group had a no. 1 smash, “Blue Moon,” followed by their second Top 10 (no. 7) hit “Heartaches”. I also like their version of “Melancholy Baby”.
Shep and the Limelites had the no. 2 smash “Daddy’s Home”, which was an answer record to “A Thousand Miles Away” (A Top 10 R + B hit in Dec. 1956-early 1957) by The Heartbeats, which was the same group, in a sense. James “Shep” Sheppard remained lead singer and changed personnel as needed.
Mary Wells had her first Top 40 hit, “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” (no. 33).
The Coasters had their last Top 40 hit, “Little Egypt” (no. 23).
“What I’d Say”(no.30) was the last top 40 hit for Jerry Lee Lewis until 1972.
Maxine Brown made her top 40 debut with “All In My Mind” (no.19). Her second hit was “Funny” (no.25).
Chuck Jackson’s first Top 40 hit, “I Don’t Want To Cry” (co-written by him: it went to no. 36), established him as a rising star, more so on the R + B charts than pop. The former Del-Vikings member went on to have several R + B hits, such as “Hand It Over”, “Tell Him I’m Not Home”(1963), “Beg Me”(1964), “Something You Got”, with Maxine Brown, and “I Wake Up Crying”. But the following year, 1962, he would record what I consider his masterpiece. And a timeless classic.
Ray Stevens debuted with “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills” (no. 35). (Bet you can’t say this real fast!)
Joey Dee and The Starliters’ no. 1 smash, “Peppermint Twist” (Dec. 1961), was inspired by New York’s Peppermint Lounge.
Adam Wade had
three Top 10s in his debut year: “Take Good Care Of Her”
(no.7), “The Writing On The Wall” (no.5), and “As If I Didn’t
Know” (no. 10).
The Dreamlovers had their first (and only) Top 10 hit, “When We Get Married”, but they may be better known, or better heard as, the backup vocals for Chubby Checker’s“The Twist”.
Sue Thompson’s first top 40 hit “Sad Movies(Make Me Cry)” was a no. 5 smash.
“I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door” was a Top 20 hit (no. 12) for 14-year-old Eddie Hodges.
“Gypsy Woman” was
the first top 40 hit (no. 20) for The Impressions. It was
written by group member and lead singer Curtis Mayfield.
14 or 15-year-old (accounts vary) acting sensation Hayley Mills (for you newbies, she was the Hilary Duff of her day) had a no. 8 smash hit “Let’s Get Together” from the film The Parent Trap.
Tony Orlando had his 1st Top 40 hits with “Halfway To Paradise” (no. 39) and “Bless You” (no. 15).
Del Shannon’s(born Charles Westover) no. 1 smash was “Runaway”. His no. 5 follow-up was “Hats Off To Larry”, and he also had the Top 30 hit “So Long Baby” (no. 28).
The Chordettes had their last top 40 hit with “Never On Sunday” ( no. 13).
The Spinners had their first Top 40 hit, “That’s What Girls Are Made For” (no. 27).
Hank Ballard and The Midnighters had their last top 40 hit, “The Switch-A-Roo” (no. 26).
Aretha Franklin had her first Top 40 hit with “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” (no. 37).
“It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” was the first Top 20 hit for Ike and Tina Turner (no. 14). This would be their biggest 60s hit.
Carla Thomas, the daughter of legendary DJ and recording star Rufus Thomas, had a Top 10 smash, “Gee Whiz(Look At His Eyes)” at no. 10.
The Diamonds’ last top 40 hit was “One Summer Night’ (no. 22).
Hank Ballard and The Midnighters had a no. 23 hit with “The Hoochi Coochi Coo”.
Ferrante and Teicher had a no. 8 smash with “Tonight”.
“Good Time Baby” was a no. 11 hit for Bobby Rydell.
The McGuire Sisters’ (Phyllis, Dorothy, and Christine) last top 40 hit was “Just For Old Time’s Sake” (no. 20).
“Tonight I Fell In Love” (no. 15) was the first Top 40 hit for The Tokens, followed by their no. 1, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. (This may be derived from a South African folk song; Miriam Makeba’s repetoire would include “Wimoweh” , as she called it.) The group went on to produce other acts throughout the decade, such as The Chiffons and The Happenings. And later, Token Hank Medress teamed up with Dave Appell to produce Tony Orlando and Dawn.
The Vibrations (“The Watusi”, no. 25)also recorded as The Jayhawks and The Marathons, who had the Top 20 hit “Peanut Butter” (at no.20!).
Linda Scott“I’ve Told Every Little Star” (a no.3 smash), “Don’t Bet Money Honey” (no. 9), and “I Don’t Know Why” (no. 12).
Johnny Tillotson had a no. 7 smash,“Without You”.
In late Dec. 1960-early 1961, “Shop Around” was a no. 2 smash for The Miracles, Motown’s first successful group.
The Marvelettes were the first Motown group to hit the no.1 spot with“Please Mr. Postman”, with Gladys Horton singing lead. ( She sang lead until 1966.) And they became the second female group of the decade and the rock era to accomplish this.
The Chantels returned to the Top 40 with new lead singer Annette Smith (no relation to original lead Arlene Smith). “Look In My Eyes” (no. 14) and “Well, I Told You” (no.29), an answer record to Ray Charles’“Hit The Road Jack” .
The Crystals made their Top 40 debut with “There’s No Other(Like My Baby)”, at no. 20. They were discovered by Phil Spector.
A doo-wop revival (in 1961!) resulted in hits for The Capris, The Marcels, Rosie and The Originals, Little Caesar and The Romans, The Velvets, The Pips (Gladys Knight and The Pips), and The Chimes, among others. Doo-wop started on the streets of New York City; groups of young, mostly black males, who were too poor to afford instruments, used their voices to harmonize and in place of instruments. Early doo-wop inspirations were The Ravens and The Drifters with Clyde McPhatter. (Many groups were named after birds! Others picked names of streets or automobiles.) New York music entrepreneur George Goldner recorded several of these groups; in early 1954, he recorded The Crows, who had great success with “Gee”. Goldner then established Gee Records and then signed Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, and others, such as The Harptones and The Flamingos. By the mid-50s, doo-wop became a national fad in American cities. Dion and The Belmonts were one of the few white doo-wop groups.
“Shop Around” by The Miracles became Motown’s first million seller.
German orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert had a top single and album, “Wonderland By Night”, and also co-wrote “Wooden Heart”, the Elvis Presley hit and a no.1 smash for Joe Dowell! Kaempfert also produced The Beatles, who were then performing in Germany.
Frank Sinatra announced plans to start his own label, Reprise. Fellow rat packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. joined Sinatra’s new label.
Across the ocean, The Beatles played for the first time at the Cavern Club. They were the opening act for The Bluegenes, later known as The Swinging Blue Jeans).
Bob Dylan debuted in New York as opening act for John Lee Hooker. Dylan also played harmonica on a recording session for Harry Belafonte.
Ben E. King originally wrote “Stand By Me” for his former group, The Drifters.
“Surrender”, the Elvis
Presley hit, was based on an old Italian ballad (as was “It’s
Now Or Never”= “O Sole Mio”?
“Buttered Popcorn” was the earliest Motown single by The Supremes (with Diana Ross), previously known as The Primettes, who recorded on the Lupine label. They were the sister group to The Primes (later known as The Temptations).
1961’s biggest hit was “Tossin’
and Turnin’” by Bobby Lewis.
The first hit from Stax Records was “Last Night” by The Mar-Keys.
The twist craze started catching on with the grownups.
“Michael”The Highwaymen, was a 19th century slave song.
Across the ocean, the alternative pop magazine Mersey Beat, was started in Liverpool.
“Please Mr. Postman”, by The Marvelettes became Motown’s first no.1 hit.
The Lettermen had their first top 40 hit, “The Way You Look Tonight” (no. 13) and first top ten (Dec.), “When I Fall In Love” (no. 7).
11-year-old Steveland Judkins was signed to the Motown company, who was later renamed Little Stevie Wonder.
The Dovells had a no. 2 smash with “Bristol Stomp”.
Joan Baez debuted on the album charts and fellow folkie Bob Dylan made his debut album.
Dylan played Carnegie Hall……..to just 53 people!
Later in the year, The Beach Boys performed their first show under that name at a Ritchie Valens Memorial show. And their debut single “Surfin” was released on X Records.
Across the ocean, The Beatles became regulars at the Cavern Club. And Brian Epstein discovered them there.
Top 40 format radio was launched. (I also read that radio station WTIX in New Orleans started this in 1955! I’m not sure about this; I always thought Top 40 radio was “sixties”.)
The first U.S. disco, Le Club, opened in New York.
The biggest crossover of R + B hits to the pop charts occurred at this time.
Popular dances were the Bristol Stomp, the Fish, the Pony, the Fly, and the Hucklebuck.
And would you believe that Paul Revere and The Raiders made their debut this year?!! Their first Top 40 hit was an instrumental, “Like, Long Hair”(no. 38).
Adults were still the predominant market for albums; the year’s best sellers included:
“Wonderland By Night”-Bert
Kaempfert the “Exodus” soundtrack “Music
From “Exodus” and Other Great Themes”-Mantovani
“Camelot”-Original Cast “Calcutta” and “Yellow
Bird”-Lawrence Welk “Great Motion Picture Themes”-Various
Artists “Make Way”, “Goin’ Places”, and “The Kingston
Trio Closes Up”-Kingston Trio “All The Way” and
“Ring-A-Ding-Ding”-Frank Sinatra “Stars For A Summer
Night”-Various Artists “Carnival”-Original Cast “Never On
Sunday” soundtrack “Something For Everybody” and “G.I.
Blues”-Elvis Presley “Exodus To Jazz”-Eddie Harris “Judy At
Carnegie Hall”-Judy Garland “Portrait Of Johnny”-Johnny Mathis
“Jump Up Calypso” and “Belafonte At Carnegie Hall”_Harry
Belafonte “Jose Jimenez At ‘The Hungry I'”-Bill Dana “Time
Out”-Dave Brubeck “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”-Henry Mancini
“The Sound Of Music”-Original Cast “Knockers Up”-Rusty
Warren “Sing Along With Mitch” and TV Sing Along With
Mitch”-Mitch Miller “Tonight In Person”-The Limeliters
“Encore Of Golden Hits”-The Platters
“West Side Story”-Original Cast