DEAR JERRY: Frankie Avalon and Bobby Vinton are two pop stars of my youth whose records I bought plenty of.
Looking back, it seems their careers share many similarities, with both starting out in their teens as instrumentalists, then successfully switching to singing, and both are still alive and performing.
Can you elaborate further on how similar their paths have been?
Jan Mueller, Hanover, Pa.
DEAR JAN: Gladly, and I think you will enjoy the journey.
Both were born in the 1930s, in Pennsylvania; Bobby in Canonsburg (1935), and Frankie in Philadelphia (1939).
Both began working professionally as teen-age instrumentalists in the 1950s, and both played a horn; Bobby a clarinet, and Frankie a trumpet.
Both achieved only a modicum of fame after signing their first recording contracts, but each began by making two unsuccessful records; Avalon for the “X” label in 1954, and Vinton for Alpine in 1959 and '60.
Next they both moved to the labels that would soon sell millions of their discs; however, both watched as their earliest recordings for the new label flopped Frankie with two on Chancellor (1957), and Bobby with three on Epic (1960-'61).
Once past the grueling years, both began a very impressive string of hits.
With Elvis spending all of 1959 in Germany, serving in the U.S. Army, Frankie Avalon elevated to the top male singles artist of the year. From 1956 through '62, this would be the only time someone other than Presley wore that crown.
In that magical year, Avalon had five consecutive Top 10 hits, two of which reached No. 1 (“Venus” and “Why”).
In 1962, Bobby Vinton's “Roses Are Red (My Love)” became the first of his four No. 1 hits (“Blue Velvet”; “There I've Said It Again”; and “Mr. Lonely”), and first of nine songs in the Top 10.
For his first 15 years (1962-1976), Bobby rang up 30 Top 40 hits, making him 10th among solo artists in that prestigious category.
Here are the other nine, whose first pop hit came in the 1950s or '60s. They are listed in order of total number of Top 40 songs during their first 15 years on the pop charts:
93: Elvis Presley (1956-1970)
39: James Brown (1958-1972)
38: Pat Boone (1955-1969)
37: Fats Domino (1955-1969)
34: Rick Nelson (1957-1971)
34: Aretha Franklin (1961-1975)
33: Stevie Wonder (1963-1977)
32: Ray Charles (1957-1971)
31: Marvin Gaye (includes three duets) (1962-1976)
Finally, both Avalon and Vinton appeared many, many times in films and on television, which leads right into our next question:
DEAR JERRY: When Frankie Avalon hit it big with songs like “Just Ask Your Heart,” I remember flashing back to seeing him several years earlier doing a comedy skit on TV with Jackie Gleason.
He was quite young, and played his trumpet, while Jackie Gleason stood by in disbelief at how good he was. I don't know the name of the song.
I checked IMDb and the only appearances they have for him with Gleason are 1967-'68. In fact, they don't credit him as being on any TV shows until 1958 (“American Bandstand”).
I'd like your thoughts on this, as I recall it too well for it not to be true.
Ralph McGuinn, Spokane, Wash.
DEAR RALPH: I have seen video of Frankie's appearance on the Jackie Gleason Show, and can tell you the tune he plays on the trumpet, live and with very little accompaniment, is “Tenderly.”
Taking into consideration that “Tenderly” was one of the top hits of 1952 (Rosemary Clooney), and that Frankie had probably not yet recorded (early 1954), I believe he first appeared on Jackie Gleason's show in either 1952 or '53.
Your recollection is excellent, and IMDb should add this significant performance, surely his first on network TV, to Frankie's credits.
IZ ZAT SO? In a 2009 column, we discussed how Brenda Lee's first two Decca singles (1956) intentionally credit her as “Little Brenda Lee (9 Years Old),” though she actually turned 12 that year (December 11).
But Decca was not the first label to shave two years off someone's true age.
Two years earlier, “X” Records chose to credit Frankie's first two records thusly: “Trumpet Solo By Eleven Year Old Frankie Avalon.”
Born Sept. 18, 1939, when he recorded “Trumpet Sorrento” and “Trumpet Tarantella” (1954), Avalon was between 13 and 14.