1959: The Day The Music Died (And The Show Went On)
How did Billboard cover the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper")? The headline on the page six story in the Feb. 9, 1959 issue reveals the angle: "Tragedy Fails To Halt GAC 'Winter Show.'" The lead explains that all dates of the Winter Dance Party tour were played, despite the Feb. 3 plane crash that took the lives of the three stars. The show went on as scheduled the evening of Feb. 3 in Moorhead, Minn., with surviving performers the Crickets, Dion and the Belmonts and opening act Frankie Sardo, none of whom were on the four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza plane that was carrying the pilot and the three headliners from Clear Lake, Iowa to the next tour date in Moorhead.
Frankie Avalon (whose "Venus" debuts on the Hot 100 this week) and Jimmy Clanton (who had a hit last year with "Just a Dream") took the top-of-the-bill spots for a Feb. 4 show in Sioux City. Avalon and Clanton were scheduled to remain on the tour through Feb. 15, with dates in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Chicago.
The Billboard coverage had no reason to mention 15-year-old Robert Velline, who came home from school for lunch on Feb. 3 in Fargo, N.D. and heard the terrible news on the radio about the plane crash in a cornfield in Iowa. Top 40 station KFGO put out a call for help. Was there a local band that could join the bill that night at the venue, just five minutes away from downtown Fargo, even though it was in the next state over? Two weeks earlier, Velline had formed a group with one of his older brothers and a friend.
They called themselves the Shadows and they volunteered to play that night. They quickly bought matching ties and sweaters and showed up at the auditorium, where they were placed second on the bill. A talent promoter was impressed enough with their performance to start booking gigs for them, and within a few months they were signed to Liberty Records. Velline's name was shortened and on Aug. 31, 1959, Bobby Vee's first single, "Suzie Baby," debuted on the Hot 100. Vee went on to have 45 chart entries on the Hot 100 between 1959-1970, including a No. 1 hit in 1961, "Take Good Care of My Baby").
The Billboard story did mention that in the aftermath of the tragedy, Mercury A&R chief Art Talmadge said that the upcoming scheduled single for the Big Bopper had been pulled from release, replaced by a track from the late performer's new album. The new single would now be a religious-themed song, "Someone Watching Over You," backed with "Walking Through My Dreams."
[Billboard, Feb. 9, 1959, page 6]
1975: Motown Records Goes Country, Jazz, Pat Boone
When one thinks of Motown, one doesn't think of Nashville, but the company founded in the Motor City is mining gold with its country label, Melodyland. Herb Belkin, Motown's L.A.-based vice president of creative operations, joined the company six months earlier from Atlantic. His mission at Motown: expand the label's image in other genres, including rock and jazz. When Belkin came on board, 95 per cent of the music released on Motown could be considered traditional R&B. There were 52 acts on the roster when Belkin signed on; today, there are 46, with seven of them in the country field, 14 on the CTI jazz imprint and a third of the remainder identified as rock artists.
Belkin told Billboard's Eliot Tiegel that Motown was not abandoning soul music, with label superstars Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder getting the personal attention of label founder Berry Gordy, Jr.
Motown's first hot country act, discovered by John Fisher and John Widdicombe, is T.G. Sheppard, whose debut release "Devil in the Bottle" looks like a sure shot for No. 1 on next week's country singles chart. (The song did achieve pole position the following week, and the follow-up, "Tryin' to Beat the Morning Home," spent a week at No. 1 in June).
Motown is also signing country artists through Mike Curb, who brought well-known names like Pat Boone, Ronnie Dove and Jerry Naylor to Melodyland. Naylor's "Is This All There Is to a Honky Tonk" is already charting in Billboard. (Fifties pop icon Boone made his country singles chart debut the week of April 5 with "Stranger Things Have Happened," which peaked at No. 64. He had three more Motown country hits before a final country chart entry on Warner/Curb in 1980. Best known for his 1964 pop hit "Right or Wrong," Dove had two country chart entries on Decca in 1972-73 before signing with Melodyland. "Please Come to Nashville" entered the singles chart the week of April 12 and peaked at No. 75. The follow-up, his final Motown chart entry, was "Things," which reached No. 25).
[Billboard, Feb. 8, 1975, page 3]
2006: 'High School Musical''s Glee'-Like Numbers Pre-'Glee'
"It's novel for a TV soundtrack to take over iTunes," Gary Marsh, president of entertainment for Disney Channel Worldwide" told Billboard's Brian Garrity in the wake of nine songs from the "High School Musical" soundtrack storming the Billboard Hot 100. The executive credited the enormous success to "holiday gift cards burning holes in kids' pockets and content with themes that speak to kids, just waiting for them to embrace it."
The first broadcast of "High School Musical" on Jan. 20, 2006, garnered 7.7 million viewers, the highest ratings ever for a Disney Channel original movie. An encore showing on Jan. 21 featuring on-screen lyrics so kids could sing along generated 6.1 million viewers, and by press time the Disney Channel had aired the movie three more times.
The TV soundtrack rockets 58-10 on the current Billboard 200 chart, and 45% of its sales are digital. Total album sales to date are 75,000, with more than 413,000 digital tracks sold, making "High School Musical" Disney's biggest digital seller ever after just three weeks in release.
Garrity pointed out that "High School Musical" has a long way to go before catching up with Disney's best-selling TV soundtrack to date, "Cheetah Girls." That 2003 release peaked at No. 33 on the Billboard 200 and sold 1.5 million-plus units. Disney Records' VP of marketing, Damon Whiteside, told Garrity that early sales of "High School Musical" were already trending ahead of "Cheetah Girls" (The "High School Musical" soundtrack peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 the week of March 11, 2006 and as of 2012, has sold 4.9 million copies).
Garrity discussed the increase in sales to kids 14 and under, noting the RIAA report that the tween genre accounted for 2.8% of all sales in 2004, the highest mark in a decade. "The success of 'High School Musical' also represents further validation of Disney Channel's strategic shift away from marketing of major-label teen pop acts to grooming its own hits organically through its original scripted programming," Garrity concluded.
[Billboard, Feb. 11, 2006, page 13]