Fred Bronson discusses the mixing of classical and pop music, one-hit wonders vs. "non-hit wonders," remakes of hit songs, and women on top of Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Recently, Kevin Martin of New York asked if other classically-based hits have appeared on the Hot 100. Restricting the field to composers generally contained in a music appreciation class covering the period 1600-1955, I found that the following reached the top-20:
"Little Star," the Elegants, No. 1, Aug. 25, 1958 (adapted from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 1761 "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star")
"Music! Music! Music!," Teresa Brewer, No. 1, March 18, 1950 (melody based in part on Liszt's 1847 "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2")
"A Lover's Concerto," the Toys, No. 2, Oct. 30, 1965) (adapted from Johann Sebastian Bach's 1725 "Minuet from the Anna Magdalena Notebook")
"Don't You Know," Della Reese, No. 2, Nov. 30, 1959 (adapted from "Musetta's Waltz" from Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera "La Boheme")
"Hello Muddah! Hello Fadduh!," Allan Sherman, No. 2, Aug. 24, 1963 (melody adapted from Amilcare Ponchiella's 1876 "Dance of the Hours")
"I Got Rhythm," the Happenings, No. 3, May 27, 1967 (written in 1930 by George and Ira Gershwin for the musical "Girl Crazy")
"Night," Jackie Wilson, No. 4, May 9, 1960 (based on Camille Saint-Saens 1868-1876 "Samson and Delilah" aria "My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice")
"Putting on the Ritz," Taco, No. 4, Sept. 3, 1983 (written in 1929 by Irving Berlin)
"A Whiter Shade of Pale," Procol Harum, No. 5, July 29, 1967 (melody based on J.S. Bach's 1731 cantata "Sleepers Awake")
"Alone at Last," Jackie Wilson, No. 8, Nov. 28, 1960 (based on Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's (date not available) "Piano Concerto in B Flat")
"My Empty Arms," Jackie Wilson, No. 9, Feb. 9, 1961 (based on "Vesti La Giubba" from Ruggiero Leoncavallo's 1892 opera "I Pagliacci")
"Summertime," Billy Stewart, No. 10, Aug. 27, 1966 (from George Gershwin's 1935 folk opera "Porgy and Bess")
"C U When U Get There," Coolio, No. 12, Aug. 16, 1997 (contains an interpolation of Johann Pachelbel's (date not available) "Canon in D Major")
"A Song of Joy," (iguel Rios, No. 14, July 18, 1970 (based on the last movement of Ludwig von Beethoven's 1817-1824 "Ninth Symphony")
"Rhapsody in the Rain," Lou Christie, No. 16, April 30, 1966 (melody inspired by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1869 "Romeo and Juliet")
"Russians," Sting, No. 16, March 1, 1986 (samples "Romance" melody from Sergi Prokofiev's 1933 "Liutenant Kije Suite")
"I Loves You Porgy," Nina Simone, No. 18, Oct. 5, 1959 (from George Gershwin's 1935 folk opera "Porgy and Bess")
I also found an additional 23 classically based tunes that reached the top-100. Makes one proud to know that pop music has such a rich classical history.
Garden Grove, Calif.
I'm guessing that this E-mail wasn't written off the top of your head, and that it required several hours of work. If so, thanks for taking the time to complete the classical picture!
All the recent comments about one-hit wonders reminded me of some trivia I discovered. I'll call these artists One Non-Hit Wonders, because all of them only had one Hot 100 chart entry, and each song only spent one week at No. 100:
The Swallows, "Itchy Twitchy Feeling," 1958
The Excels, "Can't Help Lovin' That Girl of Mine," 1961
Helen Shapiro, "Walkin' Back to Happiness," 1961
Of course, Helen Shapiro was huge in England, and the above song was a No. 1 U.K. hit. But in the U.S., it appears 1961 might not have been the best year to release a debut single.
San Diego, Calif.
I think you've just added insult to injury for these three artists. Not only were they one-hit wonders, they never rose higher than No. 100. But as you indicate, Helen Shapiro can console herself with 11 chart entries in the U.K., including her first No. 1 hit, "You Don't Know," and her lone U.S. "hit," "Walkin' Back to Happiness."
By the way, in 1963 Helen went to Nashville to record an album. One of the songs she cut was "It's My Party," and it's been reported that she actually recorded the song before Lesley Gore. American fans of pre-Beatles female singers would do well to search out one of Helen's greatest hits CDs.
REMAKING THE CLASSICS
I am in Thailand for the last day of a two-week visit. I've been out listening to the music scene here and have noticed an abundance of remakes, such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Like a Prayer." They are all disco versions of classic hits.
One such remake of an Electric Light Orchestra song was shown on the Asian version of MTV, however, the name of the song was changed. I did a little research and discovered that the song "Be With U" by Atomic Kitten contains only the music and chorus from "Last Train to London" off ELO's "Discovery" LP. The rest of the lyrics were rewritten. I am aware of all of the sampling that occurs in modern music, but this is the first time (that I'm aware of) where music and lyrics were sampled. I was curious to know if you could tell me whether or not ELO's Jeff Lynne receives any royalties or credit for this new hit?
I'm a fan of most remakes because of their ability to expose young, new fans with classic music. For example, in 1981, after I heard Phil Collins' remake of "Tomorrow Never Knows," I went out and bought the Beatles' "Revolver" LP, arguably the best album in history. I hope that new remakes such as Meat Loaf's cover of Jim Steinman's "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" and Dave Matthews Band's cover of "The Maker" will prompt new fans to run out and buy albums like "Bad for Good" and Daniel Lanois' "Acadie," two of my favorites.
My concern about this latest hit by Atomic Kitten is that it doesn't share the same title as the original hit. I have given up most hope that song samples will encourage sales of older music, such as Mariah Carey sampling the Tom Tom Club, but I think it will be a sad day if we begin to see classic songs being remade without giving credit to the original artists. What is your opinion on this emerging trend?
My apologies to Earth, Wind & Fire for not buying "Revolver" after hearing their version of "Got to Get You Into My Life" in 1978.
Thanks very much,
This is why songwriters have music publishers -- to watch out for their interests. If an artist wants to record a song that has already been released by someone else in their country, they do not need permission -- as long as they don't change any words. The original writer does have to be paid royalties, but permission is not needed. However, if you want to change the lyrics, you must get permission from the original writer, or their estate. The songwriter can deny permission.
That's what happened when Stevie Wonder first heard Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," a new take on Stevie's "Pastime Paradise." Stevie denied permission because he thought the new lyrics had too many vulgarities.
"He wasn't with that. So I changed it," Coolio said when interviewed for "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits." When Wonder heard the revision, he said yes.
I read a few weeks ago that Evanesence was the first band with a female lead vocal to hit Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks top-10 since No Doubt did it with "Ex-Girlfriend." Now that "Bring Me to Life" is No. 1, I would like to know what was the last female vocal to top the Modern Rock chart. If I had to guess, I'd say it was something by No Doubt or Alanis Morissette but going back five or six years.
The last No. 1 song on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart to feature a female lead vocal was "Celebrity Skin" by Hole. "Skin" was in pole position for four weeks, beginning with the chart dated Oct. 2, 1998.