The Hilltoppers – “Trying” and “Marianne”


Introduction to the Hilltoppers

The Hilltoppers were an American traditional pop vocal group who had scored a lot of hits during the 1950s, including six consecutive Top 10 hit singles from 1953 to 1954. The first three original members – Jimmy Sacca, Donald McGuire and Seymour Spiegelman – were students at the now-Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They formed The Hilltoppers in 1952. Later, pianist Billy Vaughn joined the band; he would have his own successful solo career as an orchestra leader. During their short years as a band the Hilltoppers nevertheless enjoyed many big hits, including a lot of Top 10 singles: “Trying” (their first charting single in 1952 which was written by Vaughn), “I’d Rather Die Young (Than Grow Old Without You),” “P.S. I Love You” (not to be confused with the Beatles song of the same title), “Love Walked In,” “To Be Alone,” “Till Then,” “From The Vine Came The Grape,” “Only You (And You Alone)” and “Marianne.” All of their records were released on Dot label. They broke up in 1957. Spiegelman died in 1987, and Vaughn in 1991. Only McGuire and Sacca are the surviving members

How did the Hilltoppers form?

The Hilltoppers were an American traditional pop singing group formed in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1952. The original core of the group consisted of three students attending Western Kentucky State College (now Western Kentucky University) – Jimmy Sacca (b. 1929 in New York), Donald McGuire (b. 1931 in Kentucky), and Seymour Spiegelman (b. 1930 in New York – d. 1987). The name “Hilltoppers” were based on the nicknames of Western Kentucky sports teams.

A rather unlikely addition completed the Hilltoppers lineup. That addition was pianist Billy Vaughn (b. 1919 in Kentucky – d. 1991 in California), who was considerably older than the rest of the Hilltoppers. Despite this, he jelled with the “kids” quite nicely and so he was immediately hired as a full-time member. Vaughn would later attain renown on his own right as a musician and orchestra leader.

The band’s first big hit “Trying”

Vaughn had written a song for the group, titled “Tryin’,” from which they recorded a demo. They sent it to a local radio disc jockey who in turn delivered it to Randy Wood, who was just starting his new record label Dot, in Nashville, Tennessee. Wood duly signed the Hilltoppers to his label, and distributed “Trying” as a single.

“Trying” (which featured Sacca) at first was a regional hit. But eventually it became a top 10 hit single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #7 in 1952. More importantly, the single put the Hilltoppers on the popular musical map.

Other hit singles by the Hilltoppers

During the Hilltoppers’ short career span, Dot was the only label where they released their records. However short the group’s showbiz spell was, it was otherwise chock-full of decent hits. The band’s biggest smashes include:

“Must I Cry Again” (#15 pop)
“I’d Rather Die Young (Than Grow Old without You)” (#8 pop)
“P.S. I Love You” (#4 pop; this is different from the Beatles song of the same name. It was a previous hit for Rudy Vallee in 1934)
“Love Walked In” (#8 pop)
“To Be Alone” (#8 pop)

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