Richie Valens (Richard Valenzeula) was one of the teenage sensations of the early rock era in the USA, and the first Latin-rock singer/songwriter to take two songs onto the charts; he was only seventeen when he penned Donna, an ode to his high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig (above with Richie). Both attended the Pacoima Junior High school, San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles) but Richie’s recording career was abruptly terminated on February 2nd.1959, when he, Buddy Holly and J P “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a light plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, while travelling as part of the Winter Dance Party series of concerts.
Donna would climb to #2 for Richie’s biggest hit, and the B-side La Bamba would hit #22 soon after and become even more famous as the original Chicano crossover hit song.
La Bamba was covered by numerous performers, most famously by Los Lobos, who would play on the soundtrack of the Richie Valens biopic La Bamba, released in 1987, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, in the lead role, and depict an incident that caused Richie to have a lifelong fear of flying, when two light planes collided over his high school, killing several of his classmates.
Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holly) met Peggy Sue Gerron (above) at a high school concert in Sacramento (Calif.), when late for a show, with guitar and amp in hand, he sent her flying and said “ I don’t have time to pick you up, but you sure are pretty.” Three weeks later she was on a date with her future husband, Jerry Allison (Buddy’s drummer, below top, with bassist Joe Maudlin at bottom), when he introduced Peggy Sue to Holly, who laughed and said, “I’ve already overwhelmed your Peggy Sue”. Buddy Holly had already hit the charts with the #1 smash That’ll Be The Day but at the age of twenty-two he would die in 1959 in the same plane crash that claimed the life of The Big Bopper (below left) and Richie Valens (below right), on “the day the music died” as Don McLean described that fateful day in his song American Pie. Holly’s widow Maria Elena has always claimed that the song was originally entitled Cindy Lou, but as a favor to Allison, Buddy changed it to Jerry’s fiancee’s name, and gave him a share of the writing credits as well. The clip is a performance of the song on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Buddy Holly look-a-like guitarist in back is Nicki Sullivan
Holly would continue to chart strongly after his death and was an influential figure in the early history of rock music, inspiring Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the Hollies, and Elvis Costello. Holly also penned Peggy Sue Got Married which was a minor hit, but Jerry and Peggy Sue did tie the knot, (pictured below on their wedding day in 1957) but were divorced in the mid-sixties.
Oh! Carol was written for Carole King (Carol Joan Klein), by Neil Sedaka who briefly dated her when they were students at the James Madison High School (NYC). It was the second hit for Sedaka who had already taken The Diary to #14 in 1958, and Oh Carol would be his first top ten hit, followed by many more in the period 1959- 62, including Stairway to Heaven, Calendar Girl, Little Devil, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, until the British Invasion bands swept him from the charts.
Carole King would marry Gerry Goffin and they would write a light-hearted answer song to Sedaka entitled Oh! Neil, which wasn’t a hit, but it did attract the interest of Brill Building song publishers who hired the young couple (below).They would became one of the most prodigious songwriters of their era, with such hits as The Loco-Motion, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, It Might As Well Rain Until September, Chains, He’s So Fine, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Up On The Roof, Take Good Care of My Baby, I’m Into Something Good, and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Carole King would go onto a brilliant solo singing career commencing with her mega hit album Tapestry in 1971 and culminating in the recent hit West End/Broadway musical Beautiful, the story of her life.
Roy Orbison and Claudette Frady (above) were married in 1957, she was sixteen and he was twenty-one, at the time Orbison was struggling to launch a solo singing career and hoping to write songs for others. In 1958 he was inspired by his young wife to write the song Claudette, which he demoed for the Everly Brothers who made it the B-side of their 1958 hit All I Have To Do Is Dream .The young couple were living in a back room at Sam Phillips Sun Record Studios in Memphis, the young Orbison was in awe of Sun’s biggest star, Elvis Presley, and ran errands for the King, often driving Presley’s purple Cadillac, and it was on one of these occasions, when he was picking up one of Elvis’s dates, that he began to write Claudette. Feeling increasingly frustrated at Sun, particularly after producer Jack Clement told him that he would never make it as a ballad singer, Orbison affiliated himself with the Everly’s publisher, Acuff-Rose, dyed his blond hair black, started wearing shades, and the rest was history.
Roy and Claudette would divorce in 1964, the pressures of touring, separation, and infidelity were cited as reasons, but they would reconcile their differences and re-marry in 1965, a year later Claudette would be killed in a motorcycle accident near Gallatin, Tennessee, when she collided with a truck, the lyrics of Claudette still remain morbidly predictive to this day “… I’m on my way to her house and I’m plumb outta breath/ When I see her tonight I’m gonna squeeze her to death, Claudette…”
In 1955 Don and Phil Everly were attending the West High School, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and older brother Don was smitten with a classmate named Catherine, he was seventeen and had been performing as part of the Everly family country music act for some years, and feeling pretty good about life. The brothers would have their debut hit record in 1957 with Bye, Bye, Love, the first song written for them by the husband and wife song-writing team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (below).But Don was about to be dumped by his girlfriend, the titular Cathy, who would inspire what would become their biggest-selling hit record Cathy’s Clown, in 1960. The Everlys had recorded a string of hits with Cadence Records in 1957-60 but had just signed to Warners Bros. Records and Cathy’s Clown would be their debut hit with Warners. The song was influenced by the chord progression and arrangement by conductor Andre Kostelanetz’s version of the orchestral piece the Grand Canyon Suite, it had a haunting hypnotic ambience, with a cascading harmony, drenched in reverb with one of the first looped drum tapes, which imparted a delayed percussive beat, technically it was brilliant. The Beatles were huge fans of the song and Don and Phil, and even jokingly called themselves the Foreverly Brothers in private, but three years after Cathy’s Clown was a hit, the Fab Four would try very hard to copy that record’s vocal arrangement on one of their own early hits – Please Please Me.
A #1 hit in the UK for 7 weeks and in the USA for 5 weeks, it sold 8 million copies globally, and was originally attributed to the two brothers, who would later fall out over the song’s authorship, and Don would sue his brother’s estate for royalties, following Phil’s death in 2014. To this day Don has never revealed the surname of Cathy, his high school sweetheart, who made him feel like a clown.
In the 1960’s Australian singer Frank Ifield had no less than four #1 hits in the UK, beginning with I Remember You in 1962, which sat atop the UK charts for seven weeks. The song was written by lyricist Johnny Mercer (above right with Judy Garland) and composer Victor Shertzinger and featured in the 1942 Dorothy Lamour/William Holden/ Eddie Bracken movie The Fleet’s In.Ifield and producer Norrie Paramor completed a substantial reworking of the song, making major chord changes, and featuring a Delbert McClinton – inspired harmonica sound, similar to Bruce Chanel’s then-current hit Hey Baby, cellos, acoustic guitar, and the powerful falsetto voice of Frank Ifield, would take the record to #1 around the world and #5 in the USA.
I Remember You also had a gossipy back story of infidelity and Hollywood shenanigans not generally known at the time. Lyricist Johnny Mercer was having an affair with Judy Garland (image at top), for whom he wrote That Old Black Magic, as well as I Remember You. Garland was nineteen and Mercer was thirty-three, and married to former dancer Elizabeth Metzer, better known as “Ginger” (below with hubby Johnny). She discovered her husband’s infidelity, and insisted on Johnny ending the affair and never mentioning Judy’s name again. When Johnny Mercer died in 1976 his wish that his tombstone should bear the words I Remember You, was furiously rejected by Ginger, and she even omitted any reference to the song in an edited collection of Mercer’s lyrics published in 1982 under the title Our Huckleberry Friend. But there was one more ironic twist in the tale of this song, for when Ginger died in 1994, the cover of her memorial service program, perhaps innocently, had the words I Remember You printed on the front.