DEAR JERRY: Can you tell me the title of Cleo Laine's first hit record on the British charts? It would have been in the late '50s or early '60s.
Also, can you sort out the American Drifters from the UK Drifters?
I know that one American Drifters formation went to Britain and worked there for a certain length of time. Are they identical with Cliff Richard's group of the same name?
Bernd Tamm, Essen, Germany
DEAR BERND: The annoying shortcoming of the New Musical Express British charts book is that there is no index for the artists only titles. This means one cannot look up names like Cleo Laine.
So I made a list of Cleo's singles from the period you mention, looking for them one by one. The earliest entry I find is “You'll Answer to Me,” which made its chart debut on September 9, 1961.
This tune did quite well for Laine. Just one month later it held the No. 3 position in the UK. Laurie Records picked up the track for US release (L-3137) in 1962, but it flopped on this side of the Atlantic.
Subsequent American releases in the '60s and early '70s also failed to chart; however,. in 1974 Cleo began a successful streak of a half-dozen hit albums, three of which are Carnegie Hall concert recordings.
It has been brought to our attention that the “Guiness Book of British Hit Singles,” supposedly based on NME charts, claims Cleo charted in 1960 with “Let's Slip Away” (Fontana H 269).
However, cross-checking my NME book, I find no entry for “Let's Slip Away” by Cleo, or anyone.
As for the Drifters situation, the British Drifters formed in 1957 to back pop singer Cliff Richard. By 1959, the American R&B vocal group of the same name then fronted by Ben E. King became very successful worldwide with “There Goes My Baby.”
Though the similarities extend no further than just a name, the Brit band changed theirs to the Shadows, thus avoiding any confusion.
Interestingly, in the mid-'60s the American instrumental releases by the Shadows (without Cliff Richard) came out on Atlantic the same label for whom the Drifters recorded from 1953 through '67.
Had they not changed their name from the Drifters to the Shadows, Atlantic surely would not have signed them.
Next, I'd like to know how many Christmas songs that came out in the second half of the 20th century (1950 - 1999) that reached No. 1.
My guess is that very few made it that high.
Deena Quillin, Milwaukee
DEAR DEENA: The title of the song you seek is “Little Becky's Christmas Wish” (Warner Bros. 7154) and it received considerable air play during the 1967 holiday season. The artist is Becky Lamb, who at the time of this recording was just five years old.
Chart-topping Christmas songs? Very few indeed.
For the first week of 1950, Gene Autry's “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” ruled the charts. In December of '52, Little Jimmy Boyd made it with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
Six years later, the Chipmunks hit No. 1 with “The Chipmunk Song.”
In the remaining 42 years of the century, I can't find a single Christmas song at No. 1 on the pop charts. There is a completely separate chart for Christmas music, but that is not what you're asking about since every song on that chart is holiday-themed.
Notice that none of the three cited have the word “Christmas” in the title.
“In 1983 Cleo became the first British artist to win a coveted Grammy award: Best Female Jazz Vocalist, for the third of her live Carnegie Hall albums.”
Let's see if we can help them a bit.
Laine did indeed win a Grammy for that LP but one presented February 25, 1986, for 1985 nominees, not 1983.
As for being the first Grammy-winning British artist, Petula Clark won in 1964, as did the Beatles. The Fab Four won again in '67.
One claim they make that we can't quibble with is:
“Cleo Laine is the only singer ever to receive Grammy nominations in the Female Jazz, Popular, and Classical categories.”