Hits of 1960 - the year, not the decade
Hearing the History: Songs of 1960
In the first year of the new decade, 1960, many historical events that would influence the rest of the decade took place. America and the Soviet Union became more embroiled in the cold war as an American U2 spy plane was shot down while on a mission over the Soviet Union. The Kennedy-Johnson ticket eked out a victory in the presidential election by one of the tiniest margins ever - 113,000 votes out of a total turnout of some 68 million voters. And our involvement in the Vietnam War began with the first troop deployment of 3,500 American soldiers.Credit: pixabay.com
What happened in 1960's Music?
In the world of music important and historical things were happening as well. The Motown sound was officially born (there had been a few releases in 1959) when the label was incorporated in April of 1960 in Detroit Michigan, Motor City USA. The new label would start their historical string of hits with Shop Around by the Miracles, among others. In England, Eddie Cochran of Summertime Blues fame died in a car crash, a new group called the Beatles formed and promptly began their epic early gigs in Hamburg, Germany. Singles were still the the major way music was released and albums were sold with a lot of filler - unimportant songs recorded to sell the hits - but Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Johnny Cash released notable LPs that were coherent wholes.
The Classic Hitmakers Rule
Elvis got out of the army and staged a comeback on the pop charts. He had 3 number 1 hits in 1960, one of which - Stuck On You - was the very first stereo/mono 45 released by RCA Records. The Everly Brothers' Cathy's Clown made it to number 1 on the charts and was the biggest-selling single of their career. Buddy Holly had his first posthumous hit with True Love Ways after dying in a plane crash in 1959, and they made a movie of his life years later. And Connie Francis and Brenda Lee, both iconic female singers of the 1950s, had huge hits as well.
In an increasingly popular and somewhat baffling trend, wacky songs also known in the business as "novelty" tunes were all over the charts. Some were humorous like Mr. Custer and Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, some were tragic like Running Bear and El Paso, some were just plain goofy like Alley Oop, but only one was a dance tune - Chubby Checker's The Twist. One of the classic songs that named a dance and provided the music for it too, it started a major trend in teen dancing.
It was also the year that the ever-popular teenage tragedy song hit its stride, and several were big hits. Teen Angel and Tell Laura I Love Her both told the tales of adolescents meeting their makers in tragic fashion. El Paso and Running Bear, while being in the running for novelty songs too, also have wrongful and tearful deaths at their cores. Maybe it was the whole cold-war fear of nuclear death and destruction hanging over the country, but tearjerkers like these continued to be big hits.
A Small Distinction
And the prize for the shortest number 1 hit single in history goes to... Stay by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Clocking in at 1 minute and 37 seconds, this song would be covered many times in subsequent years, and everyone who redid the song made it longer. But in its original version it was a tiny slice of doo-wop heaven that was never equaled.