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: 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.
On this day in music history: September 21, 1959 – “Sleep Walk” by Santo & Johnny hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also peaking at #4 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written by Santo Farina and Johnny Farina, it is the biggest hit for the guitar instrumental duo from Brooklyn, NY. Brothers Santo and Johnny Farina begin taking steel guitar lessons (from a teacher who had studied in Hawaii), after their father returns home from WWII, having heard the instrument while in the service. Both are quick studies and are soon competing in local talent contests in New York, with Johnny on steel guitar and Santo on six string electric guitar. The idea for what becomes The Farina brothers biggest hit comes in the middle of the night. At two in the morning, Johnny wakes up his brother Santo and tells him, “I have an idea for a song”. Originally titled “Deep Sleep”, it is based on the song “Softly, As In The Morning Sunrise”. The song is recorded at Trinty Music in Manhattan in early 1959. Shortly after it is recorded, it comes to the attention of Gene Orndorf who signs the duo to his newly formed Canadian-American Records label, releasing it in late June of 1959. Entering the Hot 100 at #95 on July 27, 1959, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. The classic instrumental has been covered by a number of artists over the years including Les Paul, The Ventures, Danny Gatton, and The Brian Setzer Orchestra who won a Grammy Award for their version in 1999. The original version of “Sleep Walk” was also featured prominently in the 1987 biopic “La Bamba” about singer/musician Ritchie Valens. It also provides Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green with the inspiration to write the band’s first UK number one “Albatross” in 1968. “Sleep Walk” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 14, 1955 – “Tutti-Frutti” by Little Richard is recorded. Written by Richard Penniman and Dorothy LaBostrie, it is the first major hit for the Macon, GA born “Architect Of Rock & Roll”. It is recorded at the J&M Recording Studio in New Orleans with Fats Domino’s backing band which include Frank Fields (guitar), Lee Allen and Alvin “Red” Tyler (saxophones), and Earl Palmer (drums). When initial attempts to capture a suitable performance prove elusive, the musicians stop and take a break. During that break, a frustrated Richard begins playing the song which producer “Bumps” Blackwell immediately recognizes its hit potential. Songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie is brought in to clean up the songs original and more sexually explicit lyrics. Once she is finished revising the lyrics, the band gets right to work. The master take of the song is captured in just fifteen minutes on the third take. Released in early November of 1955, “Tutti Frutti” quickly rockets up the charts peaking at #2 on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and #17 on the Best Sellers chart. The song is regarded as one of the most influential and important in the evolution of Rock & Roll. Little Richard’s original recording of “Tutti Frutti” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998.
On this day in music history: September 1, 1995 – The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, OH has its official grand opening. Established in April of 1983 by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, Rolling Stone magazine editor and publisher Jann Wenner and a group of music industry executives, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation is created to honor important and influential musicians. The foundation begin inducting artists in 1986, the same year that the city of Cleveland, OH is selected to be the home of the future museum. Cleveland is selected, as it is the city where pioneering radio DJ Alan Freed first coins the term “rock & roll” on his radio show “The Moondog House” on WJW in 1951. Several more years pass before enough funding is raised and a site is chosen for the building. Ground breaking finally takes place on June 7, 1993, with construction beginning shortly afterward. Located on the shore of Lake Erie, the museum is designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, and stands 162 ft. tall and the inside features 55,000 ft. of floor space. The building’s seven floors houses exhibits and memorabilia of all of the halls inductees, as well as a cafe, gift shop and administrative offices. To date, over two hundred artists and other important figures in the music industry have been inducted.
On this day in music history: August 18, 1956 – “Don’t Be Cruel” / “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 11 weeks. Written by Otis Blackwell / Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it is third chart topping single for Presley. Penned by songwriter Otis Blackwell (“Great Balls Of Fire”, “All Shook Up”, “Return To Sender”), “Cruel” is recorded at RCA Studios in New York on July 2, 1956, with the master version being the twenty eighth take. The flip side “Hound Dog”, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952 for R&B legend Big Mama Thornton, is recorded by Presley during the same session. A big fan of Big Mama’s version as well as the answer record “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas, Presley decides to record “Hound Dog” after an ill fated performance engagement in Las Vegas. While playing an two week stint in Las Vegas during the Spring of 1956, Elvis sees the lounge act Freddie Bell And The Bellboys performing a comedy burlesque cover of “Hound Dog” in their show. Liking their arrangement, Presley decides to record himself. Elvis and his band along with vocal group The Jordanaires record thirty one takes of the song before finally capturing the master take. The single is released eleven days later on July 13, 1956, and is an immediate smash. Technically the B-side of the single, it is listed along with “Hound Dog” beginning the week of August 11, 1956 when the it reaches #2, then topping the chart the following week. The double A-sided singles run at the top of the charts is unprecedented in the rock era. The record remains unbroken until 1992 when “End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men holds the number one spot for 13 weeks beginning on August 15, 1992, thirty six years to the week that Presley hits number one. “Cruel” returns to the Billboard top ten thirty two years later, when Cheap Trick’s cover version peaks at #4 on October 8, 1988. “Don’t Be Cruel” is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, and is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002.