My favorite year for pop music is 1961, partly because I lived in Los Angeles then, the home of many of the top record companies, and plenty of wonderful radio stations to play their new releases.
My favorite, KRLA 1110 (King Radio Los Angeles) took pride in always having some songs on their playlist that were NOT found in the national Top 100. Many stations would not play anything until it became an established hit.
On their printed Top 30 Tunedex surveys, they sometimes put an asterisk next to records "you won't hear anywhere else."
Any chance I could get a list of those? I would be so thankful!
- Marie McDonald, Indianapolis
Okay, I get the Thanksgiving reference. Only a curmudgeon could deny your request.
As you correctly imply, there always have been leaders and followers in radio. KRLA was clearly willing to take a chance on an unknown song or artist.
You have, however, overstated the meaning of their asterisk. Used in this context, it indicated songs not being played at that time by station "Brand X," their primary Top 40 competitor, the more musically conservative KFWB.
Many of these selections were regional hits in other markets, but none had an impact nationwide.
Some are generally unknown today, even by oldies aficionados, while others are deeply ingrained in R&R or R&B culture.
Chronologically, here is part one of a year's worth of KRLA Top 30 singles, none of which ever reached Billboard's Top 100:
January: "You're the One" (Spiders); "You're Gonna Be Paid" (Vernon & Jewell); "Girl in the Window" (Bobby Hart); "Green Stamps" (T-Birds)
When originally issued, in January 1954, the ballad "You're the One," and the up-tempo side, "I Didn't Want to Do It" (Imperial 5265), both made the R&B Top 10 for the Spiders. The repackage, with "Tennessee Slim" on the reverse (Imperial 5714) did not fare nearly as well in the pop market.
Vernon & Jewell never charted nationally, but are somewhat known for their 1964 revival of "A Rockin' Good Way" (Kent 405), a 1960 hit for Dinah Washington & Brook Benton.
Speaking of duos, Bobby Hart & Tommy Boyce went big time in 1967, especially with "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite." Bobby's "Girl in the Window" (Era 3039) was just one of his pre-Boyce & Hart releases.
The T-Birds' "Green Stamps" (Chess 1778) was a very commercial tie-in with the 1960s trading stamp craze, and it deserved a better fate.
February: "Tonk Game" (Hank Marr); "Depend on Me" (Miracles); "A Night with Daddy 'G'" (Church Street Five) "Tonk Game" (Federal 12400) may have been hindered by sounding so much like "Honky Tonk" (Bill Doggett). Marr's follow-up was even a remake of Doggett's "Ram-Bunk-Shush."
How the beautiful "Depend on Me" (Tamla 54028) flopped is a mystery. It's one of Smokey Robinson's best ballads. Around the same time, "You Can Depend on Me," an entirely different song, hit the charts for Brenda Lee.
Three months later, "Gary "U.S." Bonds" added words to the instrumental "A Night with Daddy 'G'" (Legrand 1004), renamed it "Quarter to Three" (Legrand 1008), and rode it to No. 1 nationally. This is why Gary gives a shout-out to "a band called the Church Street Five," and the "swingingest song there could ever be is A Night with Daddy 'G'."
March: "The Closer You Are" (Channels); "Be Sure (My Love)" (Dubs); "Sparkle and Shine" (Four Couquettes)
Here we have the third issue of "The Closer You Are" (Port 70014), and, as in 1956 and '59, it didn't catch on nationally.
Likewise was the fate of "Be Sure (My Love)," first released in 1958 (Gone 5034). Both are among the greatest R&B doo-wop records ever, and both did make KRLA's Top 20.
"Sparkle and Shine" (Capitol 4534) is a female doo-wopper that soared all the way to No. 6 in the Land of 1110. Immediately after "Sparkle and Shine," the quartet changed their name to the Four Cal-Quettes.
April: "So Sick" (Lucky Clark); "My Diary" (Carol Connors)
Lucky was unlucky in love and sales. "So Sick" (Chess 1782) had everything necessary to be a hit, that is except radio exposure beyond Southern California. After his gal moved on, he says "It made me sick, ooh so sick, I'd have to get a little better to die."
Carol Connors (nee, Annette Kleinbard), Phil Spector, and Marshall Leib were the Teddy Bears, whose "To Know Him Is to Love Him" hit No. 1 nationally. But going solo, neither "My Diary" (Columbia 41976) nor any of Carol's singles ranked in the Top 100.
May: "Lil' Ole Me" (Cornbread & Jerry); "Girl Machine" (Johnny Walsh); "Our Parents Talked It Over" (Kathy Young and the Innocents)
"Lil' Ole Me" (Liberty 55322) features pianist Jerry Smith, who in 1963 played on the Dixiebells' "[Down At] Papa Joe's" and "Southtown, U.S.A." Jerry then had his own hit in 1969 with "Truck Stop."
Inspired by a 1960 regional hit, "Robot Man," by Connie Francis and covered by Jamie Horton, "Girl Machine" (Warner Bros. 5196) finds Johnny Walsh also yearning for a mate of the artificial life form variety.
Sandwiched between two great recordings by Kathy Young, "Happy Birthday Blues" and "Magic Is the Night," is "Our Parents Talked It Over" (Indigo 121). It is on a par with her other tunes, and should have at least registered a blip nationally.
Next week: the rest of 1961