Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Regardless of the style of music or when recorded, who do you think released the most singles without ever having a best seller?

It would be interesting to know how long the record companies would stick with someone whose records were not selling.
—Anthony Veltri, Hollywood, Fla.

DEAR ANTHONY: Fascinating question, and very similar to one sent by Thomas Boggs, of Belpre, Ohio.

I always welcome topics not covered in any of our previous 1,300 columns, and this one qualifies.

Allowing for differing definitions of a “best seller,” here is my pick in the perseverance category:

The Original Memphis Five, a prolific jazz band in the 1920s, have over 250 individual singles to their credit. Only one of these sold well enough to appear on a survey, though after just one week it vanished, making it difficult to call it a best seller.

This 1923 single (Victor 19052) is a lively instrumental rendition of “Who's Sorry Now” (35 years later a hit for Connie Francis), featuring trumpeter Phil Napoleon.

Such a quantity of releases may seem unbelievable by modern era standards, but is not unheard of for the early part of the 20th century.

Other examples from the same period include the Golden Gate Orchestra (over 200 singles), the Dixie Jazz Band (over 150), and Uncle Dave Macon (over 150). Of course, all play at 78 rpm.

In the 1960s, many a recording artist got but one or two singles to prove themselves. Failing to achieve some degree of success often meant no more chances with that label.

Surely the most memorable instance of this happened in March 1962, about two months after the UK release of “My Bonnie,” by Tony Sheridan & the Beatles (Polydor NH-66833).

Decca Britain's A&R chief, Dick Rowe called Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, to inform him the boys would not be offered a contract.

Rowe simply said, “Sorry, but groups with guitars are on their way out. Besides, we were not pleased with their sound.”

Decca and Rowe made this atrocious decision even though they knew the Beatles topped the Mersey Beat popularity poll a few weeks earlier.

Ouch! Imagine how that choice soon came back to haunt them.

On the flip side, there is an amazing story where the record company, MGM in this case, believed so strongly in a promising young singer that they stuck with her through the lean times.

From mid-1955 to November '57, MGM issued 10 consecutive singles by Connie Francis. Several of these could easily have been hits, but none made much of a splash.

Attempt number 11, “Who's Sorry Now,” came along in December 1957, and the rest is history.

For their resolve and perseverance, both MGM and Connie were truly rewarded.

DEAR JERRY: Now that Tony Bennett is back on the charts, this time joined in song by the late Amy Winehouse, how many years has it been since his first hit?

I'm also curious as to how many recording artists popular in the 1950s and '60s had a song in the Top 10 this year.
—Sally Kingston, Port Orchard, Wash.

DEAR SALLY: From Tony Bennett's chart debut in June 1951, with “Because of You,” to his and Amy's current tune, “Body and Soul,” spans 60 years and three months — unmatched longevity.

“Body and Soul” is only in its first week on the chart, and while it likely will rise from its current spot (No. 87), I would not expect to see it in the Top 10.

If I'm wrong, Tony would then be the first 1950s or '60s artist to do so this year.

IZ ZAT SO? When it comes to pre-1970s performers, the Top 10 albums charts have been nearly as inhospitable as those ranking singles.

There are but three all year: Barbra Streisand, the Beatles, and Paul Simon.

The year and debut LP for each is followed by their 2011 entry:

1963 “The Barbra Streisand Album”
2011 “What Matters Most”

1964 “Meet the Beatles”
2011 “Beatles 1 (27 No. 1 Singles Remastered)”

1966 “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM” (Simon & Garfunkel)
2011 “So Beautiful or So What”

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