Saturday, December 18, 2004

50 years ago: “Earth Angel” flew on to charts

Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)

The Penguins

Writer(s): Curtis Williams, Jesse Belvin, and Gaynel Hodge (see lyrics here)

Released: October 19, 1954

First Charted: December 18, 1954

Peak: 8 US, 3 CB, 7 HR, 13 RB, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 4.0 US, -- UK, 10.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 43.89 video, 51.7 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In the 1950s, it was common practice to refashion an R&B hit as a “sanitized, big-label cover.” RS500 The intent was to craft a version of the song which would be more palatable to mainstream white audiences and subsequently have a better shot at success on the pop charts. While the remake generally lacked the grit and soul of its source material, it would often outperform the original.

“Earth Angel” was no exception – at least in terms of chart success. The Crew-Cuts, a “schmaltzy white group” RS500 from Canada, took the song to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 while the first version, by the Penguins, peaked at #8. Regardless of what the charts said, however, the Penguins’ take on the song became the more celebrated. The original outsold the remake and outperformed it on jukeboxes. DM In fact, when measured by appeal over time, Billboard called this “the top R&B record of all time.” NRR

The Penguins were a vocal group of high-school friends who formed in Los Angeles in 1954. They recorded the song in a garage; producer Walter Williams recalls redoing takes because he had to quiet the barking dog next door. TB Their “artless, unaffected vocals…defined the street-corner elegance of doo-wop” RS500 and “Earth Angel” is “one of the finest examples” TB the genre has to offer. A 1997 listener poll done by New York’s WCBS ranked “Earth Angel” the scone best doo-wop song of all time, only behind the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night.” SS

“Like many doo-wop ballads, [it] was structured on the chord changes of Rodgers & Hart’s ‘Blue Moon.’” TY2 “Earth Angel” is the song that cemented that chord progression. AH It has “virtually all the qualities cherished by doo-wop lovers: melodic beauty, a shimmering and earnest lead vocal, stripped-to-the-bone simplicity, and a pristine romantic innocence.” SS The idealized teen romance AH as well as the melody is similar to “Dream Girl,” a song the Penguins’ Jesse Belvin took to #2 on the R&B chart in 1952. SS The arrangement is from “I Know” by the Hollywood Flames, a band which featured Penguins’ members Curtis Williams and Gaynel Hodge. AH

“Earth Angel” was originally intended as the B-side RS500 for “Hey Senorita,” AH released through DooTone, a black-owned and operated label. NRR It bore the distinction of being the first song from an independent R&B label to hit the Billboard pop charts. DM Even more significantly, it was one of the first crossover records NRR and “a pivotal record in rock & roll’s early development.” RS500


Last updated 3/23/2023.

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