The 1960s is probably the most phenomenal decade when it comes to music — there’s the British Invasion, folk and protest songs movement, the psychedelia and the large-scale festivals that promoted peace and love. But before 1964, American music was still reminiscent of the styles and sounds of the previous decade — rock and roll, rockabilly, doo-wop, and traditional pop, among others. And here in this gallery, we get to know the one-hit wonders of the early 1960s, and the songs whose fame would later eclipse the artists.
The Hollywood Argyles were a “group” assembled for studio recordings by producer-songwriter Kim Fowley and musician Gary Paxton, who also happened to be friends. This studio ensemble actually topped the Billboards charts for a time with the song “Alley Oop,” written by country musician and songwriter Dallas Frazer. Apart from going to #1 on the Hot 100, it also reached #3 on the Billboard R&B singles chart in 1960.
As the “group” were just one of Fowley’s music-making associates, the Hollywood Argyles didn’t have a follow-up as he and Paxton moved on to other projects.
Kokomo is the stage name of American pianist, songwriter, arranger, and producer James J. “Jimmy” Wisner (born in December 1931). The classically-trained Wisner is actually a jazz musician, but in 1961 he recorded a rock-and-roll rendition of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. Wisner intended to release it under the title “Asia Minor”; however, he was rejected by ten labels so he established his own label, Future Records, in order to release the tune, under his new stage name Kokomo.
“Asia Mior” rose to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1961. After its success, Wisner released follow-ups, still under the moniker Kokomo, but no more big hits came for him. On the other hand, Wisner launched a successful career as a producer, songwriter, and film/television composer.
After a few singles that failed to chart, the Illinois-born pop singer and songwriter Buzz Clifford (born Reese Francis Clifford III in 1941) rose to fame via the single “Baby Sittin’ Boogie” in 1961. Released on the Columbia label, it peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also became a crossover hit as it entered the Top 40 country and R&B singles charts.
Because of the success of the single, Columbia attempted to groom Clifford as a rock-and-roll heartthrob. However, his following singles failed to chart highly, and his only other charting single “Three Little Fishes” only bubbled under the Hot 100 later in 1961. After his proverbial 15 minutes of fame were over, Clifford turned to songwriting. He went on to pen tunes sung by Keith Barbour, Petula Clark, Lou Rawls, and Kris Kristofferson, to mention a few. He also continued performing and recording.
R&B singer Claudine Clark was born in Georgia but grew up in Philadelphia. Her 1962 recording “Party Lights” was released on Chancellor Records and went on to become what would be her only hit and charting single. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #3 on the R&B singles chart.
However, her follow-up “Walkin’ Through a Cemetery” didn’t chart. Clark continued as a recording artist and a songwriter, but there were no more hits for her.
Bob Luman is the late American country and rockabilly singer-songwriter. His only claim to national fame was his single “Let’s Think About Living” in 1960. His label Warner Bros. Records released the single while Luman was still away in the US Army. “Let’s Think About Living” became Luman’s big crossover hit, peaking at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also reached #9 on the country chart and #14 on the R&B chart. The single also became a big UK hit at #6.
Although Luman would never reach the pop charts again, he went on to achieve a long string of country chart hits from the 1960s up to his death in 1978 from pneumonia, aged 41. He had also become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and turned himself into quite a sensation on the Las Vegas circuit.
American R&B singer-songwriter Billy Bland began his professional career in New York during the late 1940s by playing for a group named Four Bees. He left to go solo and then signed a contract with Old Town Records in 1955.
His successful single “Let the Little Girl Dance” almost came by accident. One day, Bland heard blues singer Titus Turner recording the song. Bland then showed him how to sing it in the studio. Unbeknownst to Bland, record producer Henry Glover happened to hear Bland sing, and then recorded the whole event.
Glover went on to release the song as a single, which eventually rose to a Top 10 Billboard pop hit, peaking at #7 in 1960. It also reached #11 on the R&B singles chart, and would be Bland’s only R&B hit in his career. He recorded until he left Old Town in 1963 and retired from the music industry. As of the late 1980s, Bland ran a soul food restaurant in Harlem, New York.
Ron Holden’s career had a very unlikely start, as the legend (spread by Holden himself) goes. He had been arrested on charges of marijuana and alcohol possession and was later put in prison. One day police officer Larry Nelson heard Holden singing, then told the latter to call him after he was released.
Nelson then left his post in the station in order to start his own record label, and later released Holden’s single “Love You So” in the spring of 1960. Recorded along with a group called the Thunderbirds, “Love You So” later reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #11 on the R&B singles chart. Donna Records, owned by producer Bob Keane, bought the rights to the song and released an LP. However, none of Holden’s following singles became as successful as “Love You So.” Holden soon retired from the music business, although the LP was re-released by Del-Fi Records in 1994. Holden died in 1997.
The Fendermen has one of the stories that sounds amazingly too good to be true, but it’s still genuine nevertheless. Guitarists Jim Sundquist and Phil Humphrey (though some sources say “Humphries”) were both born exactly on the same birth date — November 26, 1937 — and in the same state, Wisconsin, although in two different towns. They didn’t meet until they studied together in the same school, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the late 1950s.
Later the two men established their own act, which they called The Fendermen, because they played Fender guitars (a Stratocaster and a Telecaster). In 1960 the duo released their debut single “Mule Skinner Blues” on Cuca Records label; the single was then picked up by Soma Records for wider distribution. “Mule Skinner Blues” became a Top 10 Billboard pop hit at #5; it also peaked at #16 country. “Mule Skinner Blues” also became a huge hit in Canada where it almost topped the national charts. But the duo never had another hit. They finally went on their separate ways in 1962. Sundquist died of cancer in June 2013.
Edith Zuser is the late Austrian pop singer who performed and recorded under the stage name Lolita.
The former kindergarten teacher began her singing career in 1957. Most of Lolita’s themes center on the exotic scenes in places such as from Latin America or a South Sea Island. In 1959, Lolita achieved the biggest hit of her career, “Seeman, deine Heimat ist das Meer” (“Sailor, Your Home is the Sea”). It later became a hit in the United States, peaking at #5 on the Billboard pop chart in 1960. It was to become the most successful German-language song on the American shores until “99 Luftballoons” by Nena in 1984.
Lolita continued her singing career until the 1970s. She died from cancer in 2010 at aged 79.
American rock and roll and pop singer Troy Shondell (born Gary Shelton in 1940 in Fort Wayne, Indiana) first rose to fame as a Midwest sensation. He became a hit performer at Chicago’s major nightspot, Brass Rail, which also introduced him to rock and roll. Before that, Shondell had released a handful of singles on the Mercury label that included “My Hero” (released under his real name) and “Kissin’ at the Drive-In.”
In 1961, Shondell achieved his biggest hit when his single “This Time” finally broke onto the national charts. It eventually peaked at #6 on the Billboard pop chart. But after his biggest hit, all that followed were minor chart placers. Shondell’s self-penned single “Still Loving You,” which was dedicated to his father who had died of heart attack, became a country hit for Bob Luman (another one-hit wonder). In 2001, Shondell was still active in performing at mostly nostalgia shows. He also composes and produces.