Thursday, October 20, 2016

10/20/1928: Al Jolson goes to #1 with “Sonny Boy”

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Al Jolson “Sonny Boy”

Writer(s): Ray Henderson/ Buddy DeSylva/ Lew Brown/ Al Jolson (see lyrics here)

First charted: 10/13/1928

Peak: 112 US, 12 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US (1.0 in sheet music sales)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: Jolson was rehearsing for The Singing Fool, his follow-up to the first sound picture, 1927’s The Jazz Singer, when he needed to replace a song. He phoned the writing team of Henderson, DeSylva, and Brown with his request and they had a song ready the next morning. It has been suggested that the song they wrote, “Sonny Boy,” was intended as a joke, TY-45 but their “joke”ended up the biggest hit of 1928 WHC-43 and the biggest hit of Jolson’s career. That was no small feat, considering it was his twenty-first of twenty three #1 songs. PM-233

In 1928, Ruth Etting (#6) and Jan Garber (#14) also found chart success with the song. In 1929, Gene Austin took it to #12 and in 1941 the Andrews Sisters revived the song with their #22 version. PM-583 Ruth Brown, Petula Clark, John MacCormack, Mandy Patinkin, and Paul Robeson also recorded the song. WK

“Sonny Boy” was an intergral part of P.G. Wodehouse’s short story “Jeeves and the Song of Songs,” which was dramatized on the British TV series Jeeves and Wooster (“Tuppy and the Terrier,” season 1, episode 2).

Singer Eddie Fisher, who was born the year of the song’s release, was called “Sonny Boy” by his family. He shared in his autobiography that even after he’d gained fame in marrying Elizabeth Taylor, making $40,000 a week in Las Vegas, and hanging out with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Rocky Marciano, the nickname stuck. WK

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Hopefuls

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Note: this list was originally presented October 21, 2011. It has been updated to exclude acts which have subsequently been inducted.

Bashing the Rock Hall has become the quite vogue thing to do. Of course, they have inducted hundreds of deserving artists alongside those who raise many music fans eyebrows. However, fans get outraged this time every year when their favorites get snubbed…yet again.

In the true spirit of Dave’s Music Database, the occasion for a list presented itself. Just who are the biggest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubs, those acts which fans most think have been overlooked? 49 lists were consolidated to create the DMDB list of 100 deserving acts. Here we go:

1. The Moody Blues
2. Yes
3. Journey
4. Electric Light Orchestra
5. The Cure
6. The Cars
7. T-Rex
8. Iron Maiden
9. Judas Priest
10. Bon Jovi

11. Def Leppard
12. Motorhead
13. Depeche Mode
14. Pat Benatar
15. The Smiths
16. The Doobie Brothers
17. Roxy Music
18. Joy Division
19. Bad Company
20. Warren Zevon

21. New York Dolls
22. Jethro Tull
23. Todd Rundgren
24. The Replacements
25. Chic
26. The Zombies
27. Boston
28. Peter Frampton
29. Kraftwerk
30. Dire Straits

31. Joe Cocker
32. Emerson, Lake & Palmer
33. The Guess Who
34. Thin Lizzy
35. MC5
36. Devo
37. Duran Duran
38. Foreigner
39. The Monkees
40. Motley Crue

41. King Crimson
42. Janet Jackson
43. Styx
44. Big Star
45. Gram Parsons
46. The B-52’s
47. Dick Dale
48. Three Dog Night
49. Steppenwolf
50. The Scorpions

51. Pixies
52. War
53. Ted Nugent
54. Sonic Youth
55. Jimmy Buffett
56. Slayer
57. Nine Inch Nails
58. Love
59. Soundgarden
60. Captain Beefheart

61. Joan Baez
62. Blue Oyster Cult
63. J. Geils Band
64. Spinners
65. Los Lobos
66. Link Wray
67. Tommy James & the Shondells
68. Grand Funk Railroad
69. Kate Bush
70. Barry White

71. Weird Al Yankovic
72. Little Feat
73. New Order
74. Ozzy Osbourne
75. X
76. Carole King (as a performer)
77. Pantera
78. Nick Drake
79. Black Flag
80. Afrika Bambaataa

81. Procol Harum
82. Mott the Hoople
83. Megadeth
84. Eric B. & Rakim
85. Harry Nilsson
86. Johnny Burnette & The Rock N’ Roll Trio
87. The Flying Burrito Brothers
88. Pearl Jam
89. Television
90. Donovan

91. Brian Eno
92. Dead Kennedys
93. Whitney Houston
94. LL Cool J
95. Badfinger
96. Ben E. King
97. Jim Croce
98. The Runaways
99. The Clovers
100. Eurythmics

Resources and Related Links:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

50 years ago: The Four Tops "Reach" #1

Reach Out (I’ll Be There)

The Four Tops

Writer(s): Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (see lyrics here)

Released: August 18, 1966

First Charted: September 3, 1966

Peak: 12 US, 11 CB, 2 HR, 12 RB, 13 UK, 6 CN, 62 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.2 UK, 1.2 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 12.7 video, 89.59 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

The famed writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland cranked out many a hit for Motown Records but even in such a “strictly defined, even formulaic context,” MA much of what they “created... was brilliant, and now and then, as on this record, it was pure genius.” PW This is “one of the best of all the Motown productions” JA and a song to match “anything in the history of rock and roll.” MA

In his captivating baritone, Tops’ lead singer Levi Stubbs belts “reach out” with a religious fervor “like a great preacher who can make merely reading the gospel a creative act.” MA Supposedly, H-D-H instructed Stubbs to sing like Bob Dylan on “Like a Rolling Stone.” SF Apparently it showed; famed producer Phil Specctor described the song, the Four Tops’ second #1 on the pop charts, as “black Dylan.” RS500

In the fall of 1966, Motown was concerned because the Tops’ last two hits had barely cracked the top 20. TB One Motown exec concluded that “Reach Out” wouldn’t sell because it was “too different.” TB Even the Four Tops, who nailed the song in just two takes, SF assumed it was just a throwaway album cut. However, Motown founder Berry Gordy disagreed, telling the Tops to prep “for the biggest hit of their career.” FB Gordy’s instincts for hits were uncanny, and he definitely got this one right. The song went to #1 on the pop and R&B charts in the U.S. and was a #1 in the UK as well.


  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Four Tops
  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 209.
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 163.
  • MA Dave Marsh (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Page 5.
  • RS500 Rolling Stone (2004). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  • SF Songfacts
  • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA.
  • PW Paul Williams (1993). Rock and Roll: The Best 100 Singles. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. Page 101.

First posted 9/3/2011; last updated 11/12/2022.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Concert: Elvis Costello

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Venue: Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College – Overland Park, KS

Opening Act: Larkin Poe

I missed Elvis Costello a year before and was sure I’d blown my one chance to see him. Lo and behold, he was back in 2016 and I wasn’t going to miss him this time around. With a wide catalog to work from, I was pleased to see the varied approaches he used to play the songs – a set on guitar, a set on piano, etc. The highlight of the show was “Alison,” and not just because it is arguably his most celebrated song. Armed with just a guitar and no mike, Costello wondered out into the audience to perform the song, even sitting down in the seats by a fan at one point.

The Set List:

1. New Amsterdam
2. Poison Moon
3. Accidents Will Happen
4. They’re Not Laughing at Me Now
5. All This Useless Beauty
6. Everyday I Write the Book

Set on piano:

7. Shipbuilding
8. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
9. No Man’s Woman
10. A Face in the Crowd

Back to guitar:

11. Little White Lies
12. American without Tears (also on harmonica)
13. Watching the Detectives
14. Alison (off mic, walking through audience)

Set with Larkin Poe:

15. Blame It on Cain
16. Nothing Clings Like Ivy
17. Clown Strike
18. Burn the Paper Down to Ash (vocal by Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell)
19. Vitajex
20. That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving
21. American Mirror


22. The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes
23. Jimmie Standing in the Rain
24. Side by Side (on piano)
25. Blood and Hot Sauce

Encore with Larkin Poe:

26. Brilliant Mistake
27. Down on the Bottom
28. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding
29. A Good Year for the Roses

Monday, October 3, 2016

80 years ago: Fred Astaire hit #1 with “The Way You Look Tonight”

The Way You Look Tonight

Fred Astaire with Johnny Greer’s Orchestra

Writer(s): Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields (see lyrics here)

First Charted: August 29, 1936

Peak: 16 US, 16 HP, 11 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

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

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 2.28 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

The 1936 Academy Award winner for Best Song was crooned by Fred Astaire to Ginger Rodgers in Swing Time while she shampooed her hair. In the movie, she emerges from the bathroom in a robe, so smitten by his declaration of love that she forgets about her lathered-up scalp. When he looks up from the piano after the last line, he’s startled to see her there. She flees in embarrassment, now aware of her sudsy look.

The moment made for a cute, romantic moment which perfectly fit Dorothy Fields’ “gentle lyric [which] made the song as singable to a child as to a sweetheart.” MM Fields started crying when Jerome Kern first played her the melody. “I couldn’t stop,” she said. “It was so beautiful.” SB

Astaire charted with the song in 1936 (#1), as did Guy Lombardo (#3) and Teddy Wilson with Billie Holiday (#3). Benny Goodman charted (#21) with it in 1942. It has also been recorded by Betty Buckley, John Coltrane, Neil Diamond, Billy Eckstine, the Lettermen, and Betty Carter with Ray Bryant on piano. MM It has enjoyed additional movie success, most notably in the 1997 Julia Roberts’ film My Best Friend’s Wedding. MM

“Tonight” actually has no verse, which isn’t unusual for a Kern song, but at 44 bars, it is also a long song. SB The “long, open melody and characteristic key change” MM has made the song “a jazz and cabaret standard.” JA


  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Fred Astaire
  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Dorothy Fields
  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Jerome Kern
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 206.
  • MM Max Morath (2002). The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Popular Standards. New York, NY; Penguin Putnam Inc. Page 154.
  • SB

Last updated 7/16/2022.