Friday, February 10, 2006

50 years ago: “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” hit the charts

Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers

Writer(s): Frankie Lymon, Herman Santiago, Jimmy Merchant (see lyrics here)

First Charted: February 10, 1956

Peak: 6 US, 6 CB, 2 HR, 15 RB, 13Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 2.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 15.6 video, 54.19 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Frankie Lymon was “one of rock & roll’s first teen prodigies, [but also] one of its earliest tragedies.” RS500 By 25, he was a penniless heroin addict. RS500 However, in his brief life, he contributed “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” which has been called “the perfect combination of commercial pop and doo-wop music.” SJ At thirteen, Lymon became the youngest artist (at that time) to top the U.K. charts. SF He had a voice that had yet to succumb to puberty and the moves and personality which served as a model for future child pop stars like Michael Jackson. FR He used “tricks learned form the likes of Dinah Washington and Ruth Brown, just given whatever veneer of maleness a thirteen-year-old possesses.” DM He also had an ability for “working the crowd like a young James Brown with absolutely no self-consciousness at all.” AH

It helped that Lymon had “a gorgeous falsetto voice ad knew how to use it.” AH Lymon, “through the sheer yearning of his vocal, …makes the record unforgettable.” DM As was usually the case with rock-tinged R&B and doo-wop songs by black artists in the mid-50’s, a white group – this time the Diamonds – covered “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” but this time the original by the Teenagers did better on the charts. This is partly because the Diamonds were adults and “simply couldn’t compete with the novely sound of a boy who sounded prpubescent, singing in falsetto.” AH Lymon “influenced almost every vocal group that followed,” AH including the Four Seasons, Jan & Dean, and the Beach Boys. AH

Richard Barrett, leader of the R&B group the Valentines, discovered the Premiers, as they were then called, and introduced them to his record label owner George Goldner. SS Goldner had also recorded the doo-wop classic “Gee” by the Crows. Herman Santiago was supposed to sing lead, but in more conflicting tales, was either sick that day SJ or was just bumped because Goldner liked Lymon’s delivery better. KL

It should come as no surprise that with all the conflicting tales surrounding the song, the writing credits are also a matter of dispute. One account says that Lymon wrote it for his girlfriend, TC but member Jimmy Merchant says the group used to perform in the hallway of the building where member Sherman Garnes lived. A tenant named Robert offered the group some love poems from his girlfriend to see if they could make any into songs. SJ

“Robert’s girlfriend” does not show up in any writing credits, but a lot of other names do. Early vinyl pressings credited Lymon, Santiago, and Merchant. WK The song was later attributed to Lymon and Goldner, who eventually sold the rights to Morris Levy, a label owner notorious for claiming copyrights on songs he didn’t write. SF A 1992 court battle awarded credit to Santiago and Merchant WK but were returned to Lymon and Levy when, on appeal, a judge agreed that Levy hadn’t written the song, but that the lawsuit had been filed too late. SF Yet another source says a lawsuit awarded Santiago and Garnes with authorship. DJ It is, of course, the only incident in the history of recorded music of disputed royalties over a hit song. Ever.


First posted 4/30/2021; last updated 4/1/2023.

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