If you were a hard core rock and roll fan in January of 1960, you were probably moving the needle on your a.m. dial up and down a lot. In an era that was known as the first age of rock and roll, the Billboard top twenty for January 25th, 1960 was a little thin. But if you were into death scenarios, you were well served.
Three of January 25th’s top four spots played out tragic death scenes. At the top was “Running Bear” in which the title character and Little White Dove are so desperately in love that they dive into the “raging river” and of course are forever together in that “happy hunting ground.” In Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” a former #1, he dies in the arms of Felina. And of course, Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel” is clobbered on the railroad tracks. Nestled between all these at #2 was “Why” by Frankie Avalon. It seems like a reasonable question. All of the top four were #1 songs.
At #5 you finally get to a rock and roller with Freddy Cannon’s “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.” “Go, Jimmy Go,” “Pretty Blue Eyes,” and “You’ve Got What It Takes” are fair representations of the pop rock of the time. But the best rock and roll song of the January 25th top twenty was “Handy Man” by Jimmy Jones. In February it would rise to the #2 spot and was Billboard’s #8 song for the year. Evidence of the songs quality is its remakes by Del Shannon (#22) in 1964 and a #4 hit for James Taylor in 1977 (a much slower version). The worst of rock and roll was represented by Fabian’s “Hound Dog Man” – believe it or not from a movie of the same name.
“He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves was at #20 on January 25th, but it would eventually climb as high as #2 in March. The aforementioned “Way Down Yonder,” “Where or When” by Dion and The Belmonts, and Toni Fisher’s “The Big Hurt” had peaked earlier at #3.