DEAR JERRY: As a teen living in New York in the '50s and '60s, I was exposed to a lot of regional hits that I learned in later years are unknown to the rest of the country.
This seems especially evident with doo-wop and group harmony records.
For example, everyone knows “16 Candles,” by Johnny Maestro and the Crests, but does anyone outside New York recall the sequel one year later?
After 50 years, I can't remember the exact title. I do know it is not “17 Candles.” Did it make the national charts at all?
Harold Lorring, Scottsdale, Ariz.
DEAR HAROLD: You're right about the Big Apple being a doo-wop hotbed in those days, though several other areas of the country also made significant contributions to that genre.
The success of the Crests, however, was not restricted to any one region. Following the huge success of “16 Candles,” the next dozen releases by the Crests, featuring Johnny Maestro, became hits from sea to shining sea.
The sixth of those is your sweet 16 birthday sequel: “A Year Ago Tonight” (Coed 521). This tune made the Top 50 on both Billboard and Cash Box, and did so exactly one year after “16 Candles.”
As you suspect, no mention is made of 17 candles, though Johnny doo-wopingly reflects fondly on the previous year's party: “A year ago tonight you were 16, the sweetest teenage queen I've ever seen. A year ago tonight I let you know, that 16 candles in my heart would glow.”
In 1964, three years after Johnny Maestro left to focus on a solo career, another group of Crests released “You Blew Out the Candles” (Coral 62403).
A cha-cha-cha rather than a ballad, this song has nothing whatsoever to do with “16 Candles,” though it's easy to think it does because of the birthday party theme and the group name.
DEAR JERRY: In the days when cover records were common, their release would at times be very close to the original, making it difficult to know which is which. Such is the case with “Baby Elephant Walk.” I know Henry Mancini wrote it for the movie “Hatari,” but apparently Mancini didn't have a single with it. I know it's on the soundtrack album.
We are then left with two versions, one by Lawrence Welk and the other by the Miniature Men. Both were hits at the same time, but which is the original and which is the cover?
Gloria Esterfield, Hanover, Pa.
DEAR GLORIA: Even looking at the charts offers no solution. Both came out in May and both debuted on Billboard the week of June 3, 1962, with Lawrence Welk (Dot 16364) at No. 96 and the Miniature Men (Dolton 57) at No. 98.
Composer Henry Mancini did not have a single of “Baby Elephant Walk,” leaving the field open for Welk, the Miniature Men, and three other non-charted versions: the Parisian Sextet (Challenge 9151); Carl Stevens (Mercury 71996); and Kai Winding (Verve 10258).
Henry Mancini's is clearly the original recording, but the Miniature Men got their record out first, about three days ahead of all the others. In this quirky situation, the Dolton single is both a cover and an original.
Not surprisingly, Lawrence Welk, with an established name and a popular TV show, outsold all the others combined, though no one made the Top 40 with this tune.
Rather than “Baby Elephant Walk,” the ill-fated Mancini single chosen from the “Hatari” soundtrack turned out to be “Theme from Hatari” (RCA Victor 8037), issued in July '62. This selection pretty much bombed.
IZ ZAT SO? Perhaps because Dolton was in such a rush to get the Miniature Men to dee jays and stores ahead of the herd of baby elephant records that they didn't have time for proof-reading. First pressings mistakenly credit the group as #Minature Men,” and are valued at about $20. Subsequent pressings with the correct spelling fetch about half that.
The Miniature Men are really Dolton arranger Hank Levine and a studio band gathered for just this purpose.