“I’d be flirting with disaster if I changed my style of singing... Back in 1956, everyone was saying rock n roll was on its way out. I think music is improving.
-- Elvis Presley
By 1960, rock and roll had achieved a certain consistency on the Billboard chart of popular music. Of the fifteen artists who would have number one songs in 1960, four would be repeats: Frankie Avalon, Elvis Presley, Connie Francis, and The Everly Brothers had all topped the charts before. Three others, would have number one songs in subsequent years: Chubby Checker, The Drifters, and Ray Charles. And most of the artists who had experienced success in 1959 would find continued success in 1960. Paul Anka, Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin, The Fleetwoods, Johnny Horton, Ricky Nelson, Lloyd Price, Bobby Rydell, Neil Sedaka, The Platters, and Jackie Wilson were all prominent artists of 1959 and all would have at least one top 40 song in 1960.

Some of the big names of early rock and roll would have their last bit of success in 1960. Fats Domino had been a fixture on the charts since the dawn of “The Elvis Era;” his 1960 recording, “Walking to New Orleans” would be his last top ten entry. The Platters’ long string of hits would come to an end with 1960’s “Harbor Lights” being their last top ten song. The Coasters, who had three top ten records in 1959 wouldn’t crack the top 30 in 1960.

Back to the Top

Some of the successes of 1959 would continue. Frankie Avalon was one of the top performers of 1959 when he had four top ten hits, including the #1 song, “Venus.” 1960 began with another #1 song for Avalon, “Why.” However, it would be his last top ten song and his career would go more towards Hollywood. Lloyd Price was another big success of 1959. He got “Lady Luck” to number 14 -- that would be his best for the remainder of his career. The Fleetwoods had made a big splash in 1959 with two number one songs (“Mr. Blue” and “Come Softly To Me”) and still had two fairly successful chart entries in 1960 (“Runaround” and “Outside My Window”); but an inability to tour due to Gary Troxel’s enlistment in the Navy probably limited their exposure. Paul Anka had two top ten hits with “Puppy Love” making it to #2.

Some of the artists who had initial success in 1959 would take their careers to new heights in 1960. Sam Cooke had been on the charts since “You Send Me” was #1 in 1957. But 1960 was one of his best years with “Chain Gang” reaching the #1 spot. Brooke Benton had charted four top twenty hits in 1959. In 1960 he matched that number with two of his entries being duets with Dinah Washington (“A Rockin’ Good Way” and “Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes”). A reconstituted “Drifters” had put two songs in the top twenty in 1959 -- they would reach #1 for the first time in 1960 with “Save The Last Dance For Me.” Bobby Rydell followed up his 1959 hits with four top twenty songs, including “Wild One” which would reach #2 and be his highest charted record. Ray Charles had been a big success on the R & B charts when he crossed over in 1959 with “What’d I Say.” 1960 brought him his first number one song that was nothing like his previous R & B recordings -- “Georgia On My Mind.”

Some artists who would become major stars of the early 1960’s had their initial success in 1960. Bobby Vee, who had filled in for Buddy Holly following his fatal plane crash, had his first top ten hit with the remake of “Devil or Angel.” Roy Orbison had his first big successes in 1960: “Blue Angel,” and “Only the Lonely.” Johnny Tillotson, The Shirelles, and Steve Lawrence also had their first charted records. Neil Sedaka followed his initial charting song, “Oh, Carol” of 1959 with “Stairway to Heaven” in 1960. Likewise, Freddy Cannon followed “Tallahassie Lassie” with “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.” Both would find even greater success in subsequent years.

Back to the Top

Elvis Presley would have to be considered the most popular recording artist of 1960. With his return from the army, his much anticipated first release, “Stuck on You” went straight to number one in May. By the end of the year he once again had the most number ones as “It’s Now Or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” followed “Stuck on You” to the top spot. While this success is noteworthy in that it proved that “The King” had staying power, it really marked a change in the direction of Elvis’s music. When he had entered the army in 1958 he was still considered the flashy, somewhat dangerous “hillbilly cat.” Partly because he had so willingly submitted to the draft and served as a “regular” soldier, and partly due to his natural maturation, Elvis now appealed to a much larger audience. His records began to appeal as much to adults as to the teens and preteens who had packed his concerts before his stint in the army. Also, under the tutelage of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis embarked on a movie career that would not be distinguished by great movies with challenging roles, but would rather be merely showcases for soundtrack music aimed at making money more than expanding Elvis’s artistic expression. But it was Elvis’s best year since 1957 -- he had four number ones in ‘56 and ‘57, two in ‘58 and one in ‘59. In 1960, as his new album would proclaim, “Elvis is Back,” but it wasn’t the same Elvis.

The Everly Brothers had been fairly quiet in 1959 (by their standards) with only “’Til I Kissed You” making the top ten. In 1960 they left the Cadence label and Warner Brothers was the high bidder for their contract. The new label was rewarded with a #1 song, “Cathy’s Clown.” The famous duo would place three other songs in the top ten.

Back to the Top

The school of early rock and roll was a male dominated, but in 1960, two female vocalists established themselves as the undisputed leaders. Connie Francis had already had great success on the Billboard charts, with four top ten records prior to 1960. She would have four more in 1960 and have the second most number one songs for the year with “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You.” Brenda Lee was a newcomer to the charts in 1960, but she broke in in a big way, also reaching the number one spot twice with “I’m Sorry” and “I Want To Be Wanted.” The other successful girls of 1960 were Anita Bryant (“In My Little Corner of the World” and “Paper Roses”) and Annette (“O Dio Mio” and “First Name Initial”) with two top ten entries each and Kathy Young (with The Innocents) with one (“A Thousand Stars”). Connie Stevens who had success with the novelty song, “Kookie, Kookie” in 1959 made a solo entry with her #3 recording of “Sixteen Reasons.” Making her first appearance was Tina Turner who had a #27 song with husband, Ike, “A Fool in Love.”

Instrumentals flourished in 1960, led by the unanimous top song of the year (Billboard, G & T, and Cashbox), “Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith. “A Summer Place” was a 1959 movie starring Dorothy McGuire, Richard Egan, Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. The movie debuted in November, but the theme song didn’t enter the “Hot 100” chart until January. On February 22nd it became the number one song and stayed their for nine weeks. It was by far the most successful instrumental of “The Elvis Era.” And it was Percy Faith’s most successful recording. He had previously been successful with “Song From the Moulin Rouge” in 1953 which was the best selling single that year. Floyd Cramer, who put his stamp on many Nashville recordings had his biggest solo success with “Last Date” which reached #2. “Because They’re Young” by Duane Eddy was the title track for the Dick Clark movie and reached #4, also making both the Billboard (#37),Cashbox (#36) and G & T (#35) lists. It was also the year of perhaps one of the most widely recognized instrumentals of “The Elvis Era,” “Walk, Don’t Run” by The Ventures. It reached #2 and was also one of the top songs of the year, ranking #11 (Cashbox), #18 (G & T), and #25 (Billboard).

Back to the Top

Novelty records were also big in 1960. At least three of the number one songs clearly fit the “novelty” tag. “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” was a number one song for Brian Hyland. It’s a story of a shy girl going to the beach in her bikini “Alley-Oop” by The Hollywood Argyles is about a comic book character. And “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne is about a reluctant member of Custer’s 7th Cavalry -- “Please Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go.”

While “Mr. Custer” was clearly a comedy gimmick, several other number ones of 1960 were story songs of a more serious bent. While we must assume the character in “Mr. Custer” dies as all the soldiers did at the Little Big Horn, the subjects of these other “stories” died more graphic deaths. In “Running Bear,” Johnny Preston tells the story of an “Indian brave” (Running Bear) and a “fair Indian maid” (Little White Dove) who dive into the “raging river” to reach each other. They obviously don’t make it as we’re told they will “always be together in that happy hunting ground.” The gunfighter of “El Paso” fame also doesn’t make it as Marty Robbins tells of how he just can’t stay away from “pretty Felina, the girl that I love.” He dies in her arms, “one little kiss and Felina goodbye.” Perhaps the all-time leading tragedy song of all time and certainly of “The Elvis Era” was “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning. It’s the story of a girl who runs back to her car that’s sitting on the railroad tracks -- “I pulled you out and we were saved, but you went running back.” It turns out that she’ d left her ring behind as in the end we find his “high school ring clutched in your fingers tight.” Mark Dinning pines, “I’ll never kiss your lips again, they buried you today.” To keep things balanced, Ray Peterson kills the guy off in his song, "Tell Laura I Love Her." But the sentiment is the same, "my love for you will never die." The whole thing got to rockabilly singer, Bob Luman, and he released "Let's Think About Livin'" where he laments "we lost ol' Marty Robbins back in El Paso a little while back," and we have "Don & Phil a feelin' like they could die." He proclaims, "if we keep on losin' our singers like that, I'll be the only one you can buy."

While these songs portrayed violent death in a glorified manor, two rock and roll stars suffered the real thing in 1960. In 1959 rock and roll had experienced its first premature deaths with the plane crash that took Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. In 1960 two more names would be added to the list of fallen stars. Eddie Cochran, died in a car crash in England on April 17th. He had always wanted to tour England and in the spring of 1960 he got his chance. He had been appearing with Gene Vincent and had received an enthusiastic reception from the British audiences. He had decided to take a break from the touring and was traveling to the airport with his girlfriend Sharon Sheeley and Vincent when the driver lost control and smashed into a lamp post. Cochran died the next day from his injuries. Eddie Cochran’s only real “hit” was 1958’s “Summertime Blues” and his early death pre-empted any further contributions to rock and roll music. But his few early efforts earned him much respect among artists and in 1987 he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Johnny Horton had reached #1 in 1959 with “The Battle of New Orleans.” In 1960, two songs derived from movie titles reached the top ten: “North to Alaska” and “Sink The Bismarck.” Johnny Horton died in a car crash on November 5th of 1960. He always had a premonition that he would be killed by a drunk driver. As fate would have it, he was crashed into by a drunken truck driver after playing in Austin, Texas and making the cross country drive to Shreveport, Louisiana. His last play date was at the Skyliner in Austin. That was the same venue where Hank Williams had last performed. Horton had married Williams’ widow, Billy Jean Williams/Horton.

Back to the Top

In addition to the above mentioned “El Paso” and “Running Bear,” country songs proved quite successful in 1960. Making Billboard's top 40 were “Burning Bridges” (#35) and “What in the World’s Come Over You” (#14) by Jack Scott; and “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” (#47) by Hank Locklin. The most successful country song of 1960 was the classic, “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves. It was a #1 song that Billboard cited as #2 for the year. It even prompted an “answer song” by Jeanne Black, “He'll Have to Stay” that reached #4 on the weekly chart.

The 45 single was still the king of popular music while broadway and movie musicals tended to be top selling albums. The sound track from “The Sound of Music” broadway play was the #1 album of the year. And The Kingston Trio continued their LP success with “Sold Out.” But the “new kid on the block” of record albums was the comedy album. Two comedy albums made G & T’s top ten LP’s of 1960: Bob Newhart’s “Button Down Mind” and Shelley Berman’s “Inside.”

Other notables of 1960:

• Chubby Checker promoted a new dance with his #1 record, “The Twist.” It was popular in 1960. But even more would be heard of it in 1961.
• Dion had his first hit as a solo “Lonely Teenager” (#12)
• Jerry Butler with Curtis Mayfield as co-writer and singing backup took “He Will Break Your Heart” to #7 and topped the R & B chart for seven weeks.
• With Merle Haggard in the audience, Johnny Cash played a concert at San Quentin.
• Alan Freed was indicted for accepting “payola.”
Back to the Top

Jim Reeves' #1 song, "He'll Have To Go" prompted a response song, "He'll Have To Stay" by Jeanne Black.
Jackie Wilson was one of the most successful artists of 1960 with eight songs making the Billboard top forty.
Frankie Avalon's "Why" is first #1 of 1960.
The soft sound of Ray Charles makes it to #1 with "Georgia On My Mind."
Roy Orbison had a #2 hit with "Only the Lonely."
The "Elvis is Back" LP was the 9th best in 1960 according to G & T.
"Cathy's Clown" was the Everly Brothers' first release for Warner Brothers.
Brenda Lee had two number ones in 1960.
"A Summer Place" wasn't the best movie of 1960, but its theme song was the #1 song.
Dick Clark made his movie debut in "Because They're Young" and Duane Eddy made the theme song a top ten hit.
Larry Verne's "Mr. Custer" was one of the novelty songs to make #1 in 1960.
Marty Robbins' "El Paso" was unique in that it was nearly twice as long as the average record of the time.
Mark Dinning's "Teen Angel" was number one on February 8th. Two other "death" songs, "El Paso" and "Running Bear" were also in the top five.
Eddie Cochran died in a car crash in England.
Johnny Horton died in a car crash in Texas.
Jack Scott was one of many successful country singers to cross over to the pop charts in 1960.
Bob Newhart had one of the top selling albums of 1960.
Dion found success as a solo artist in 1960.