DEAR JERRY: Here's one question I doubt you've ever been asked.
What was the first 45 rpm vinyl single that was being sold in stores at the same time it was No. 1?
I know many of the first 45s were simply reissues of earlier material.
Curtis Fister, Virginia City, Nev.
DEAR CURTIS: We have thoroughly covered RCA Victor's introduction of the 45 rpm format, as well as Columbia's creation of LP albums, but your long-awaited inquiry is definitely a first.
In the beginning … RCA Victor shipped the first batch of 45s to record stores in February 1949, to awaken everyone to "the little record with the big hole."
Selected larger retailers also received a special stand-up display giving customers an audio-visual preview of the supposedly unbreakable new vinyl format, plus a list of 45 rpm selections that "can be ordered."
As indicated, commercial copies of the promo samples were not yet available.
One of those new 45s is "Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)," by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra.
The standard 10-inch 78 rpm single (RCA Victor 20-3411) came out in April, and by the end of the month the tune was on the Billboard and Cash Box charts, but not yet at No. 1.
That accolade, along with everything essential to your query, came about on May 14, 1949.
On page 23 of that week's Billboard magazine, RCA Victor has a full-page display ad, with the headline: "Now the new ones are on 45rpm!"
Following that is some mighty prophetic copy writing:
"Effective right now, practically all new RCA Victor releases announced in Billboard are on both 45 rpm and 78 rpm records! And that's going to be true of RCA Victor releases from now on! The 45 rpm system is going places fast!"
The "both 45 rpm and 78 rpm" part remained true until early 1959, when the 78 speed format is put to rest.
Also in the ad is a plug for "The Certain Seven (Best-sellers that no dealer can afford to be without)," and one of those seven is Vaughn Monroe's "Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)," now with a new RCA selection number: 47-2902.
Three pages later is the Best-Selling Popular Retail Records chart, where "Riders in the Sky" jumps from fourth position to No. 1.
This case could not be more conclusive.
We have reliable confirmation that a 45 was commercially available at exactly the same time as the record tops the chart.
My conclusion: "Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)" is also a 45 rpm legend.
DEAR JERRY: I always thought that Kris Kristofferson's first record was "Golden Idol"/"Killing Time," a summer 1967 release on Epic Records.
Now, at least according to Wikipedia, Kris previously "recorded for Top Rank Records using the pseudonym Kris Carson."
None of my sources indicate any Kris Carson releases on Top Rank.
Did Kristofferson really make records pre-Epic, using his real name or not?
Hillary Sommerville, Shreveport, La.
DEAR HILLARY: Yes he did, just not for Top Rank.
Like you, I am unable to confirm any Top Rank records by Kris, either as Kristofferson, Carson, or any other name.
In fact, I cannot find even one record ever made by anyone named Kris Carson.
What we do know is that 10 years before "Golden Idol" (Epic 5-10225) came along, 21-year-old Kris Kristofferson wrote "Ramblin' Man," an uptempo folk song somewhat similar to ones by the Weavers or Kingston Trio.
Interestingly, there is no mention on Wikipedia, or even on Kristofferson's own site, of this recording.
In July 1958, "Ramblin' Man," backed with "Blue Melody," came out on Manor Records (No. 1001), the debut single for a tiny label based in Los Angeles. The performance is credited to "Tony & Kris," and the songwriter is simply "Kristofferson."
Reportedly, Kris' duet partner is Tony Lynds, his one-time roommate at Pomona College, where, in 1958, Kris graduated summa cum laude (with highest honor) with a BA in literature.
Knowing "Ramblin' Man" has been overlooked by nearly every music historian, I had no expectation of finding this unknown duo, on an unknown label, among Billboard's new singles reviews.
Still, I had to check.
Surprisingly, Tony & Kris are indeed mentioned in the August 11, 1958 issue.
Unfortunately, the guys did not get a review in the true sense, such as a writer's opinion about the music.
Instead, the Manor single is one of 23 new releases given a lower-rating, and listed below the traditional reviews.
For these unfortunate few, the only ink given is artist, titles, label and number.
See the label and hear the song here.
IZ ZAT SO? It certainly is a rarity, but one of that week's least likely to succeed releases really proved the reviewers wrong.
"Need You," by Donnie Owens, another unknown singer, became a nationwide hit, zooming up to No. 20 on Cash Box (CB) and 25 on Billboard (BB).
Amazingly, of 80 total singles reviewed that week, only "Need You," and Chuck Berry's "Carol" (CB#31/BB#18), made it into the Top 75.
Three others did chart, but only briefly and never far from the bottom on both surveys:
Jackie Wilson "We Have Love" (CB#76/BB#93)
The Music of David Seville "Little Brass Band" (CB#93/BB#78)
Lee Allen & His Band "Tic-Toc" (CB#97/BB#92)