Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I just discovered a wonderful video series online with excerpts of Billboard's No. 1 hits in order, from January 1955 through December 1979. For those 25 years, there are about 550 tunes. It's like the soundtrack of my life!

Begin here to hear it, then follow the links provided!

The artists and song titles in this “Time Tunnel Medley,” as it's called, are not listed, which means I need help identifying the instrumentals. The vocals are all pretty recognizable.

Are you able to name all of those No. 1 instrumentals?
—Tina Jean Carlson, Fredonia, Wisc.

DEAR TINA JEAN: Ready, willing, and definitely able. Here are the 29 No. 1 instrumentals in order, including a few with occasional vocal extras, such as “The Hustle” and “Fly Robin, Fly”:

1955: “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” (Perez “Prez” Prado & His Orchestra); “Unchained Melody” (Les Baxter His Chorus & Orchestra); “Autumn Leaves” (Roger Williams).

1956: “Lisbon Antigua” (Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra); “The Poor People of Paris” (Les Baxter His Chorus & Orchestra); “Moonglow and Theme from 'Picnic'” (Morris Stoloff).

1957: None.

1958: “Tequila” (Champs); “Patricia” (Perez Prado & His Orchestra).

1959: “The Happy Organ” (Dave 'Baby' Cortez); “Sleep Walk” (Santo & Johnny).

1960: “The Theme from 'A Summer Place'” (Percy Faith & His Orch.).

1961: “Wonderland By Night” (Bert Kaempfert & His Orchestra); “Calcutta” (Lawrence Welk & His Orchestra).

1962: “Stranger on the Shore” (Mr. Acker Bilk with the Leon Young String Chorale); “The Stripper” (David Rose & His Orchestra); “Telstar” (Tornadoes). All three of these acts are English.

1963 - 1967: None.

1968: “Love Is Blue (L'amour Est Bleu)” (Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra); “Grazing in the Grass” (Hugh Masekela).

1969: “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet” (Henry Mancini His Orchestra & Chorus).

1970 - 1972: None.

1973: “Frankenstein” (Edgar Winter Group).

1974: “Love's Theme” (Love Unlimited Orchestra); “TSOP The Sound of Philadelphia” (MFSB Featuring the Three Degrees).

1975: “The Hustle” (Van McCoy & Soul City Symphony); “Fly Robin, Fly” (Silver Convention).

1976: “The Theme from S.W.A.T. (Rhythm Heritage); “A Fifth of Beethoven” (Walter Murphy & the Big Apple Band).

1977: “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from 'Rocky')” (Bill Conti); “Star Wars Theme / Cantina Band”; (Meco).

1978: None.

1979: “Rise” (Herb Alpert).

My review of this list inspired some gripping observations:

Only once did one instrumental replace another as the nation's top hit. In March 1956, when “Lisbon Antigua” (Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra) gave way to “The Poor People of Paris” (Les Baxter His Chorus & Orchestra). Equally unusual is these two titles held the top two chart spots one week, then merely reversed positions the next.

At the opposite extreme, over five vocally-abundant years (Dec. 1963 - Feb. 1968) separated “Telstar” (Tornadoes) and “Love Is Blue (L'amour Est Bleu)” (Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra).

In May 1956, two versions of “Moonglow and Theme from 'Picnic'” were in the Top 5, one by Morris Stoloff and the other by the George Cates Orchestra.

Twice, the No. 1 song of the entire year was an instrumental: “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” (Perez “Prez” Prado & His Orchestra) (1955) and “The Theme from 'A Summer Place'” (Percy Faith & His Orch.) (1960).

As for Perez Prado (“Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” and “Patricia”), he and Les Baxter (“Unchained Melody” and “The Poor People of Paris”) are the only ones with two tunes on the list.

Three versions of “Unchained Melody” ranked in Top 10 in May 1955: Besides the instrumental, there were two similar vocal versions, one by Al Hibbler and another from Roy Hamilton.

“Unchained Melody” is one of five songs on the list with a modicum of voices. The others are: “Tequila” (Champs); “The Hustle” (Van McCoy & Soul City Symphony); “Fly Robin, Fly” (Silver Convention); and “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from 'Rocky')” (Bill Conti).

Except for Silver Convention, all of the acts are males.

The only No. 1 instrumentals in 1977 are both film themes: Conti's “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from 'Rocky')” and Meco's “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band.”

Of these 27 artists, nine are foreign-born: Perez Prado (Cuba); Percy Faith (Canada); Bert Kaempfert (Germany); Mr. Acker Bilk (England); David Rose (England); Tornadoes (England); Paul Mauriat (France); Hugh Masekela (South Africa); and Silver Convention (Germany).

IZ ZAT SO? We must also acknowledge eight instrumentals from these same 25 years that didn't quite top the Billboard charts, but did reach No. 1 on Cash Box:

1955: “The Crazy Otto (Medley)” (Johnny Maddox & His Rhythmasters); 1958: “Topsy II” (Cozy Cole); 1961: “Exodus” (Ferrante & Teicher); 1965: “A Taste of Honey” (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass); 1968 “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams); 1972 “Outa-Space” (Billy Preston); 1973 “Dueling Banjos” (Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell); and 1974 “The Entertainer” (Marvin Hamlisch).

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