On this day in music history: October 15, 1957 – “Elvis’ Christmas Album”, the third album by Elvis Presley is released. Produced by Steve Sholes, it is recorded at RCA Victor Studios in Nashville, TN and Radio Recorders in Hollywood, CA from January – September 1957. Presley’s first holiday album consists of eight Christmas songs and four gospel songs (the latter previously released as the EP “Peace In The Valley”). The LP’s lavish original packaging is designed to look like a photo album and contains a photo booklet with publicity stills from Elvis’ latest film “Jailhouse Rock”. First press run copies also come with a gold “gift tag” affixed to the front of the LP jacket (which also adds to original pressing’s collectible value). Upon its release, the album is the subject of some controversy when songwriter Irving Berlin, the composer of the classic “White Christmas” objects to Presley’s recording of the song, going as far as requesting that radio stations ban it from airplay. Some others feel that Elvis recording gospel songs is “sacrilegious”. One disc jockey is actually fired for playing the album on the air. In spite of all this, it becomes a classic and a perennial holiday favorite over the years, being reissued every year. After its first year, the albums artwork is changed for the first of several times before the original album packaging is restored in 1985 as part of RCA’s reissue program (some vinyl copies are pressed on red or green vinyl) to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Presley’s birth. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2010, pressed on red vinyl. It is subsequently reissued by Friday Music, with one release being pressed on translucent blue vinyl, and sold exclusively through retailer F.Y.E.. “Elvis’ Christmas Album” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, and is certified 13x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, receiving a Diamond Certification.
On this day in music history: October 8, 1957 – “Great Balls Of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis is recorded. Written by Otis Blackwell (“Don’t Be Cruel”, “All Shook Up”, “Return To Sender”, “Handy Man”) under the pseudonym “Jack Hammer”, it is the biggest hit for the Louisiana born rock & roll musician nicknamed “The Killer”. The single is recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN and is featured in the film “Jamboree”. Released on November 11, 1957 as the follow up to “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, the single is an across the board smash, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Best Sellers, #1 on the Country and #3 on the Rhythm & Blues charts. The song is regarded as one of the most important and influential songs of the early rock era, also being covered by numerous artists over the years. The song also features prominently in the blockbuster “Top Gun” in 1986, as it is sung and used as a catch phrase by actor Anthony Edwards throughout the film. The original recording is also featured on an expanded remastered edition of the soundtrack album in 1998. The song is also used as the title for the 1989 biopic on the rock & roll icon starring Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder and Alec Baldwin. Jerry Lee Lewis’ original recording of “Great Balls Of Fire” is also inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998.
On this day in music history: October 5, 1959 – “Poison Ivy” by The Coasters hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 5 weeks (non-consecutive), also peaking at #7 on the Hot 100 on October 12, 1959. Written and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it is the fourth chart topping single for the legendary R&B vocal group from Los Angeles, CA. By 1959, The Coasters have a string of major hits under their belt, all of which were written and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Leiber and Stoller writes “Poison Ivy” about a girl who is irresistible and alluring on the surface (at first comparing her to a flower or a daisy), but ultimately brings peril to whom ever dares to get close to her. Lyrics like “poison ivy, lord, will make you itch”, and comparing her to maladies like whooping cough, the measles, and chicken pox, Leiber later reveals that the title subject is actually a thinly veiled metaphor for a loose woman with a sexually transmitted disease. The track is recorded at Atlantic Recording Studios in New York City on July 16, 1959. Released in August of 1959, it is The Coasters third smash hit of the year following “Charlie Brown” (#2 Pop and R&B), and “Along Came Jones” (#9 Pop, #14 R&B). Another million seller for the group, it actually marks the beginning of the end for The Coasters run of hits. A shift in musical tastes at the end of the 50’s sees the groups unique style fall out of popular favor and they do not reach the top ten on either the R&B or pop singles chart again. The song is among the most covered of The Coasters with versions by The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, and The Kingsmen to name a few. In 1988, Miami based rap group Young & Restless samples the original recording for their hit single also titled “Poison Ivy”. “Poison Ivy” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 5, 1959 – “Mack The Knife” by Bobby Darin hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 9 weeks (non-consecutive), also peaking at #6 on the R&B singles chart on November 23, 1959. Written by Kurt Weill, Berthold Brecht and Marc Blitzstein, it is the biggest hit for the singer and actor born Walden Robert Cassoto. A cover of the standard from the Kurt Weill – Berthold Brecht musical “The Threepenny Opera”, Darin is inspired to record it after hearing Louis Armstrong’s version of the song. The track is recorded at Fulton Sound Studios in New York City on December 19, 1958 with Atlantic Records co-founder and chairman Ahmet Ertegun producing. Initially he is resistant to it being released as a single after American Bandstand host Dick Clark dissuades him from putting it out, feeling that the show tune will alienate his rock & roll fans. Darin himself is also not sure of the records chances at first, but has a change of heart. Atco issues as the first single from “That’s All” in early August of 1959, and becomes an instant smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #59 on August 24, 1959, it rockets to the top of the chart just six weeks later. After six consecutive weeks at the top, it drops to #2 for a week behind The Fleetwoods “Mr. Blue”, then regains the top spot for three more weeks. The single earns Darin two Grammy Awards including Best New Artist and Best Vocal Performance By A Male. Bobby Darin’s recording of “Mack The Knife” is also inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999, two years after Armstrong’s 1955 recording. “Mack The Knife” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 29, 1958 – “It’s All In The Game” by Tommy Edwards hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 weeks, also topping the Rhythm & Blues chart for 3 weeks (non-consecutive) on the same date. Written by Charles Dawes and Carl Sigman, it is the biggest hit for the pop vocalist from Richmond, VA. “It’s All In The Game” is originally written in 1911 as an instrumental titled “Melody in A Major” by Charles Dawes who would later serve as Vice President of the United States under President Calvin Coolidge. Songwriter Carl Sigman writes lyrics for the song in 1951 when Tommy Edwards first records it. Edwards original version peaks at #18 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart in the Fall of 1951. By 1958, Edwards has been without a major hits for nearly four years, and his label MGM Records is on the verge of dropping him, but has one final session to go on his contract. Edwards re-records “It’s All In The Game” with a new arrangement and in stereo, making it one of the first stereo 45’s released by MGM Records. The new version is released in early August of 1958 and is an immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #40 on August 25, 1958, it races to the top of the chart five weeks later. Over the years, the song has been covered by many other artists, including versions by The Four Tops, Cliff Richard, and Merle Haggard. “It’s All In The Game” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 23, 1957 – “That’ll Be The Day” by The Crickets hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 1 week. Written by Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison, it is the biggest hit for the rock & roll quartet from Lubbock, TX. Recorded in February 1957 at producer Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, NM, the song is inspired after Buddy Holly sees the John Ford western “The Searchers” when John Wayne utters the now famous line “that’ll be the day”. Holly had originally recorded the song in Nashville in 1956 while under contract to Decca Records. The deal he signs legally prohibits him from re-recording any of his songs for five years, whether they are released or not. Producer Norman Petty gets around this by crediting the re-recorded “hit” version to The Crickets rather than under Buddy Holly’s name. Released on Brunswick Records (ironically a subsidiary of Decca) in May of 1957, the song becomes a smash. When Decca discovers that The Crickets and Holly are one in the same, they sign him to their Coral Records subsidiary for his solo releases. Entering the Best Sellers chart at #21 on August 18. 1957, it climbs to the top of the chart five weeks later. “That’ll Be The Day” becomes a rock & roll standard and is covered numerous times over the years by artists such as Linda Ronstadt and The Everly Brothers. The song is also one of the first recordings made by the pre-Beatles group The Quarrymen (consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Colin Hanton and John “Duff” Lowe) in 1958. Regarded as one of the most important and influential songs of the rock era, The Crickets version of “That’ll Be The Day” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998. “That’ll Be The Day” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.