Over the first five or so years of the Hot 100, rock and roll and teen pop records shared space with easy listening instrumentals and versions of classic pop songs. There were certainly some adults buying rock records, and teenagers who were fans of Lawrence Welk, but as a rule the two demographics kept to themselves. But around 1963, inspired by the success of artists like Bobby Vinton, labels began engineering singles specifically to appeal across demographic lines. The formula was simple: find teen idol types and record them singing either standards (“Blue Velvet“) or new songs that could pass for standards (“Roses Are Red [My Love]“). Meanwhile, “Hey Paula” had also sparked a trend for male-female duets. It was only logical that a single combining the two could potentially become a hit.
“Deep Purple” dated back to the 1930s and had been recorded in a variety of styles in the intervening decades. Nino Tempo and April Stevens were siblings (real last name: Lo Tempio) already established in the entertainment world – Nino a saxophonist and former child actor, April a singer who’d had a few hits in the ’50s. For their recording of “Deep Purple,” the pair jacked up the standard’s tempo and sang over a bed of harmonica, drums and piano instead of a big band. Still, there are no attempts to radically alter the song – with one exception. During the second half, Nino sings softly while April drawls the same lyrics just slightly ahead of him. Her purr is so extreme that it would put Marilyn Monroe to shame, and goes a long way toward making the record sound more seductive than it really is. As a result, the record was a respectful, sprightly version of an old song with just a hint of sex appeal added (which, to modern ears, is still a little too much for a sibling duet). The whole package appealed to both sides of the generation gap, with the old guard even bestowing a “Best Rock & Roll Recording” Grammy on the duo. Of course, the record’s connections to rock and roll were tenuous at best, but at least the establishment was trying. “Deep Purple”‘s cross-generational gimmick now sounds dated and a little clumsy, even if it’s still revived from time to time. Then again, the record was never intended to be inducted into any sort of rock canon. It’s merely another version of a familiar hit, its greatest ambition to appeal to a wide range of record buyers for a few weeks in 1963. 5
It took (only!) 15 months to get through the first 100 number-ones. In case you haven’t been around the whole time, here’s a brief overview to bring you up to speed:
- The average rating was 5.94, with more than a quarter of the tracks earning a 7. The top-rated track was Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” while the lowest-rated was “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne. Both records are also the only ones yet to earn a 10 and a 1, respectively.
- On reflection, there were a couple of songs that I rated unnecessarily low. Most egregiously, I dismissed Connie Francis’s “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” as “passable.” I now think it’s one of her best songs, although I still haven’t gotten over the stifling production. In second is “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, which I rated favorably but under-enthusiastically.
- On the flip side, there are also those tracks I graded too kindly. I’m not sure how I ended up handing Paul Anka a (mildly) positive rating. Given that “Lonely Boy” was post #16, I’ll blame beginner’s jitters. (Also, I’m still conflicted about “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”)
The next 100 posts will be covering one of the most exciting periods in pop history. Here’s hoping it won’t take another 15 months to get through them.
Hit #1 on November 16, 1963; total of 1 week at #1
100 of 978 #1’s reviewed; 10.22% through the Hot 100