“Those oldies but goodies reminds me of you; The songs of the past bring back memories of you”
-- Little Caesar & The Romans (written by Paul Politti)
David “Little Caesar” Johnson had knocked around the LA music scene since 1955 as part of various vocal groups. beginning with the Cubans in 1955 and as part of the Upfronters in 1961. The Upfronters had some local success for Lummie Fowler’s label (Lummtone Records) when Johnson met songwriter Paul Politti while hanging out at Fowler’s. Politti pitched his new song to Johnson, “Oldies But Goodies Remind Me Of You.” Johnson wanted to record the song, and Politti thought it would be a natural fit for Art Laboe at Original Sound Records. One of Laboe’s projects was the production of collection LP’s beginning with “Oldies But Goodies” in 1959. Laboe passed on the record, but Politti eventually sold it to Bob Keane at DelFi Records. Johnson formed a new group that was dubbed “Little Caesar and The Romans.” As a gimmick to help sell the act, the group dressed up in togas when they performed. The record was released in the spring of 1961. It became a national hit, reaching #9 on Billboard in July. (Another version by Nino and The Ebbtides was far outdistanced.) The group sought to build on the success with the release of “Hully Gully Again,” but it stalled at #54. A later effort to rekindle the success, “Memories of Those Oldies But Goodies,” failed to reach the top 100 and the group subsequently disbanded.

If the definition of a “one hit wonder” is an artist who has one major hit, but then fails to make the top 40 on any subsequent releases, Little Caesar & The Romans qualify. Be that as it may, their recording of “Those Oldies But Goodies” is significant in the history of popular music in the age of rock and roll. 1961 can be considered rock and roll’s 5th anniversary year -- a significant milestone. And as such, the genre was developing a self-awareness that was beginning to be expressed in a glorification of its history. As noted above, Art Laboe had begun issuing “Oldies But Goodies” albums in 1959. These were the forerunners of the collections from such labels as K-tel and Ronco and Increase Record’s “Cruisin’” series that would come in later decades. It had become a common practice among top forty programmers to inject a little variety into the play list with “oldies” featured from time to time and even a separate time slot given to playing hits from previous years. In the early 1970’s stations would expand this format into “oldies” stations that played only the hits from an earlier time. Originally these stations focused on the 1955 to 1970 period. But today, many “oldies” stations play songs from the 1980’s, or even the 1990’s. Those that still conform to the earlier time periods are sometimes referred to “golden oldies.” Obviously, as the demographics change, the definition of “oldies” evolves.

Don McLean proclaimed that 1959 was the “day the music died.” Elvis returned in 1960, but his turn toward “easy listening” songs did little for rock and roll. So, in the middle of 1961 some listeners began turning their ears to the sounds of the earlier rock and roll. Laboe’s first volume of “Oldies But Goodies” is a pretty good indication of where they were looking -- a doo wop classic, “Earth Angel” by the Penguins and a hard rocker, “Maybelline” by Chuck Berry were both on the album. (Other cuts on the album, such as “The Way You Look Tonight” by the Jaguars, might generate some head scratching today.)

When something is recognized as having a history, there is a sense that it is legitimized. It is seen as also having a future. In becoming a legitimate force in popular music in 1961, rock and roll was far beyond the fad it had at first been perceived to be. But it also suffered a bit from this legitimization. Number one songs such as Pat Boone” “Moody River,” Elvis’s “Surrender,” and certainly Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta” didn’t owe much to rock and roll influence. The dual piano productions of Ferrante & Teicher, “Exodus” and “Tonight” were both #2 hits and could just as easily emerged in 1951. The Lettermen’s ballads, “When I Fall In Love” and “The Way You Look Tonight” were also throwbacks to the pre rock and roll era. But, although a deejay could capture an audience with his stack of “oldies,” there was still a lot of enthusiasm for the current top forty. Rock and roll classics such as Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” The Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” The Marvelette’s “Please Mr. Postman,” and Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” were all products of 1961.

So, before you start digging back into the 1950’s, looking for an “oldie but goodie,” give 1961 a chance. Although it failed to crack the top forty, The Showmen produced a great sound in 1961, “It Will Stand.” As rock and roll slid down that slope some have called the “treacle” period of rock music, they proclaimed what we all knew. Rock and roll was still king. “ ... take some heart beats, drum beats, finger poppin’ and stompin’ feet .... rock and roll will stand.”

Some of the greatest success of rock and roll in the early 1960's came from the "girl groups." The Marvelettes had a number one hit with "Please Mr. Postman" in 1961. It's a classic rock song later successfully recorded by such diverse groups as The Beatles, part of their VeeJay "Introducing the Beatles" album in 1964; and The Carpenters, a #1 single in 1974.
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There is certainly a lot of evidence that by 1961 rock and roll music was getting considerably "softer." But that doesn't mean it was "bad" music. Roy Orbison's "Crying" is an example of the best of this softer side. "Crying" was a #2 hit for Orbison -- his second record of 1961, "Running Scared" went all the way to #1. This video is from his 1964 television show.
Little Caesar & The Romans had a top ten hit in 1961 with "Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You)" They actually dressed up in togas when they performed -- even when they appeared on American Bandstand. They reportedly hated the outfits.
Deejay Art Laboe produced a series of "Oldies But Goodies" albums beginning with Volume I in 1959 and followed by 15 more.
Side 1
In the still of the Night - Five Satins
Earth Angel - The penguins
Eddie My Love - The Teenqueens
Tonite Tonite - The Mello Kings
Heaven and Paradise - Don Julian and the Meadowlarks
The Letter - Medallions

Side 2
Let the Good Times Roll - Shirley and Lee
Confidential - Sonny Knight
Stranded in the Jungle - The Cadets
The Way you Look Tonight - Jaguars
Dance with Me Henry - Etta James
Convicted - Oscar McLollie
Some of the songs on the Volume 1 playlist are classics, such as 1956's "In the Still of the Night" by the Five Satins. Others are less known, such as "Confidential" by Sonny Knight.
The Lettermen reflected the more mellow sound of pop music in 1961. With some changes in lineup, their success would continue to the end of the decade.

"It Will Stand" by The Showmen peaked at number 61 on the pop chart in 1961, but is a classic celebration of rock and roll music. It was re-released in 1964, but fared no better, stalling at number 80. Lead singer General Norman Johnson had a hit song in 1968, "Gimme Just A Little More Time" by The Chairman of the Board.