This Week in Billboard History: Simon Cowell's Pre-'American Idol' Idols; The Singing Nun Sets Chart Record
This Week in Billboard History: Simon Cowell's Pre-'American Idol' Idols; The Singing Nun Sets Chart Record
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Working out the Formula: Simon Cowell (left) and Robson Green and Jerome Flynn, two British actors who Cowell helped take to the top of the charts.

1995: Simon Cowell's Pre-American Idols: British Soldier Actors
A report from London detailed the success on the U.K. charts of British actors Robson Green and Jerome Flynn, stars of the ITV series "Soldier Soldier," a military soap opera with over 15 million viewers per weekly episode. Billboard's Nigel Hunter noted that the thespians reluctantly agreed to try their hand at recording. "It took me four months to persuade the boys," RCA's A&R consultant Simon Cowell told Hunter. "They just didn't see themselves as potential pop stars."

Cowell, who began his career at EMI Music Publishing and then spent eight years at Fanfare Records before working in A&R at BMG with artists like Sonia, Five and Westlife, got the idea to launch Robson & Jerome's music careers after the actors sang "Unchained Melody" in an episode of their series "Soldier Soldier." He teamed them up with hit-making producers Mike Stock and Matt Aitken, who with Pete Waterman were responsible for a plethora of hits by Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Rick Astley. "Unchained Melody" formed a double-A sided single with a remake of Vera Lynn's 1942 World War II classic, "The White Cliffs of Dover," and became the U.K.'s biggest-selling single of the decade, with sales of 1.8 million. Cowell predicted that it would top two million by Christmas.

Robson & Jerome had two more hit singles, the double-sided "I Believe" / "Up on the Roof" and the triple-A sided "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" / "Saturday Night at the Movies" / "You'll Never Walk Alone." But a trio of hit singles is not the only reason Robson Green has to thank Cowell. The A&R consultant's assistant at RCA, Vanya Seager, caught Green's eye and romance blossomed. The two were married in 2001. [Billboard, Dec. 16, 1995, page 70]

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Sister Act: Jeanine Deckers, also known as Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile) left with eclesiastical fans was the first to set a Billboard chart record in 1963 that has since become common place. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty)

1963: Nun Of The Above
The Singing Nun is the first artist in Billboard chart history to simultaneously have a number one album ("The Singing Nun") AND a number one single ("Dominique") from that album. She was also only the second artist in history to have a number one single from a number one album - the first was Motown's teen prodigy Little Stevie Wonder, in the summer of 1963, but his single ("Fingertips - Pt. 2") and album ("The 12-Year-Old Genius") weren't number one at the same time. Billboard reported that sales of the Singing Nun's records hit a lull after the assassination of President Kennedy on Nov. 22, but were climbing again and sales of the album were predicted to hit one million by early 1964.

The Belgian artist born Jeanine Deckers, also known as Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile), didn't hold on to her unique place in history very long. After a 10-week reign, her album relinquished pole position to the Beatles' "Meet the Beatles" while the Mop Tops' single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was in its third week at No. 1 on the Hot 100. Five months later, the soundtrack to the Fab Four's' "A Hard Day's Night" was No. 1 while the title song led the singles chart. Soon, other artists were repeating this feat, including SSgt. Barry Sadler ("The Ballad of the Green Berets" and "Ballads of the Green Berets"), the Mamas and the Papas ("Monday, Monday" and "If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears") and the Monkees ("I'm a Believer" and "The Monkees"). Eventually the chart double became so commonplace that it wasn't a notable event, but the Singing Nun got there first. [Billboard, Dec. 14, 1963, page 3]

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Critical Clamoring: Not receiving the latest Vaughn Monroe release in 1945 caused a fury amongst music reviewers.

1945: When Labels Cared About Music Critics
Once shunned, record reviewers are getting some newfound love from the major record labels. As a Billboard story put it, "Lads who once-over the shellacked lids, long getting left-handed treatment from the waxworks in general, now rate major attention now that the record field is flooded with product." The Victor label was paving the way by setting up a contact desk "to salve the chronic complaints of the record reviewers." Although apparently all the critics were male, the desk was headed up by the label's Sara Dunn. Billboard reported, "Gal has already turned in yeoman public relations results in soothing the hostile needle critics who had been steaming no end because Victor overlooked them until a late date in the mad rush to get the initial Vaughn Monroe record to disk marts." [Billboard, Dec. 16, 1945, page 17]