When Debbie Reynolds Topped the Charts: A Remembrance by Seymour Stein

The Sire Records chairman recalls Reynolds' 1957 hit "Tammy" and the music revolution underfoot.

The day after Debbie Reynolds passed (Dec. 28) at the age of 84, the legendary Sire Records chairman Seymour Stein wrote this remembrance of her lush hit "Tammy" which in 1957 topped the Billboard charts and became the year's highest ranked song by a female artist. "It was a MOST important year for music and Debbie Reynolds was a big part of it," Stein says. 'Tammy' had to be unique to fare so well in the face of such dramatic changes."

In 1957 Debbie Reynolds had her biggest hit, "Tammy," which was No. 1 for five weeks on Billboard; and it was flying in the face of an onslaught of rock and roll and other genres. ”Tammy" was one of the last hurrahs for '50's pure pop and 1957, one of the most crucial years in rock and roll’s evolution.

1957 was the height of music change. It was the height of Elvis Presley; the debut of the Everly Brothers; there were early country crossovers by Sonny James, "Young Love"; "Singin' the Blues" by both Marty Robbins and Guy Mitchell; and a ”A White Sport Coat" by Robbins; “Gone,” by Ferlin Husky; "Four Walls" by Jim Reeves and more. It was a golden era for country.

1957 was also the greatest year on the pop charts for Calypso from Trinidad. Harry Belafonte and The Tarriers each with their own version of “Banana Boat (Day-O),” and Terry Gilkyson, with “Marianne.” This is years before reggae came from Jamaica.

It was a great year for Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard and had the first hits from Jerry Lee LewisBuddy Holly & the Crickets, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers. All seven are among the first ten musicians inducted in the first year of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It was also a banner year for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; and it also had the first hits from Ricky Nelson and the Coasters.

Other classic hits that year were “Come Go With Me" and "Whispering Bells" by the Del-Vikings; "Party Doll" by Buddy Knox; "Love is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia; "Butterfly” by Charlie Gracie; and ”Since I Met You Baby," by Ivory Joe Hunter, the latter song a perfect blend of country and R&B like others he wrote, including "I Almost Lost My Mind."

In the midst of all of the above, in the midst of one of the best years ever for country and R&B and the best ever for Calypso, Debbie Reynolds hit with "Tammy." Previously, she also scored her first Top 10 on Billboard with "Abba Dabba Honeymoon," in 1952, when still in her teens. 

The years 1954 through 1957 are the most vivid in my memory, as they ushered in rock & roll. I was 12 in '54 and ready for it.