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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Episode 50 - Short-Shorts

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[Dylan on "The Letter"]

"By the way, 'The Letter' is the second shortest single to reach Number One. It's under two minutes long. The only song shorter was 'Stay' by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs." - Bob Dylan, "Mail" Theme Time Radio Hour, Season 2.

[Stay - Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs]

Outside of being the shortest song ever to reach #1 on the charts, clocking in at a tight 1:38, Maurice Williams' 19 and 60 Stay has stayed a popular song for years, gaining a whole new audience in 19 and 87 when it was showcased in the movie, Dirty Dancing.

Maurice Williams was born in Lancaster, South Carolina sometime between 19 and 38 and 1940 (sources differ on the year). He formed his first group, The Royal Charms in 1953, the same year that he'd write Stay and another mega-hit for the group that would become the Zodiacs, Little Darling. Both songs were written by Williams for a girl he was wooing.

By 1956, the Royal Charms had signed with Excello Records, based out of Nashville, and had changed their name to the Gladiolas, a kind of weird replacement suggested by the head of Excello, who thought there were already too many Royals and who liked flowers.

Little Darling by the Gladiolas was released by Excello in January of 19 and 57. It did great on the R&B charts, making it to the #11 spot, but Little Darling couldn't break into the Top 40 on the pop charts. But Little Darling would be a hit - in fact, chart to #1 - just not for the Gladiolas. A white group - the Diamonds - would cut their own version of the song, eventually selling over a million copies, as well as establishing the doo-wop style. Since Williams had retained full rights to the song, Little Darling ended up making him bags full of money at the tender age of 17.

In 1958, the Gladiolas decided to move from Excello, requiring yet another name change, as the label owned their name. A member of the group saw a German car, liked the name, and "the Zodiacs" were born. Two years later, the Zodiacs were cutting demos for Herald Records and Williams revived Stay for one of the recording sessions. Stay became their debut on the label, hitting the #1 slot in the fall of 1960, and became the biggest hit in the history of Herald Records.

Williams and the Zodiacs never had another record nearly as big as Stay, which has sold over 10 million copies and been covered by a variety of artists including the Four Seasons, Jackson Browne, and Chaka Khan.

Not bad for a song not much longer than a minute-and-a-half.

We'll be back to the second-shortest song to reach #1 in a bit, but to go up the charts, the all-time shortest charted single is Little Boxes by the Womenfolk, which ran just two seconds over a minute, and went to #83 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 19 and 64. The song was written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962, and made popular by Pete Seeger, whose own version ran over two minutes.

Little Boxes is featured in the Showtime TV series Weeds as its theme song. The first season used Reynolds' recording, and later seasons have included versions by Elvis Costello, Engelbert Humperdinck, Randy Newman, Joan Baez, and Death Cab for Cutie, among others.

We also have the term, "ticky-tack" thanks to Little Boxes, a particularly annoying tune that Tom Leher once described as, "the most sanctimonious song ever written," which I tend to agree with, and is the reason why I'm not inflicting any version on you.

[Some Kinda Earthquake - Duane Eddy]

Duane Eddy's 1959 hit Some Kinda Earthquake remains the shortest song to ever hit the American Top 40, officially weighing in at 1:17. Two other very short songs that made it into the Top Ten include The Dave Clark Five's I Like It Like That (#7 in 19 and 65), which ran a brisk 1:37 and which was the same length as Leslie Gore's Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows, which also charted that same year.

But beating them both as the shortest Top Ten single is this 1:28 number from 19 and 61, a one-girl duet that made it to #8 on the charts...

[Let's Get Together - Hayley Mills]

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hayley Mills was a young Fred's heart-throb back when I was just a sprout in Saco, Maine, and I would probably still come running if she crooked her finger at me.

Let's Get Together
is from the original The Parent Trap, one of the best live-action movies Disney ever made. As well as the 15-year-old Mills, the movie stars Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith doing his best John Wayne imitation. The role of the father, Mitch Evers , was originally written for John Wayne, with O'Hara slated for her regular role as his feisty Irish love interest. But the notoriously cheap Disney Studios refused to pay Wayne's going price, and substituted Brian Keith as a Wayne clone. Close your eyes and listen to Brian Keith's take on the role, and you can almost see John Wayne as father to the twins, Sharon and Susan.

The Disney songwriting team of the Sherman Brothers - who churned out most of Disney's hits in the `60s and `70s - wrote Let's Get Together, as well The Parent Trap's title song, which incidentally is sung by my other Disney girl, Annette Funicello. If anybody could have made me jilt Hayley, it would have been Annette.

I should note that the cut I played is taken from the movie. Hayley Mills' hit single has her doing the song as a solo. Of course, she did the other song as a solo too, I guess.

Okay, time to talk about the second-shortest #1 single ever, and I've got a problem, because I'm not sure Our Host and the Theme Time Radio Hour crack research team have it right that The Letter is the one. In fact, there's some pretty convincing evidence ag'in it. But considering how Mr. D. wailed on poor ol' Tim Ziegler about being too anal over facts and figures in the Lock & Key episode, I'm a little scared about bringing it up.

[Dylan - This isn't a classroom]

But, what the hell. Here's the deal. Nowhere can I find any evidence that The Letter was the second-shortest single ever to reach #1. "Under two minutes," yep the song certainly is. I've found versions ranging from a high of 1:57 to a low of 1:52. But let's give the original single the benefit of the doubt and say it clocked in at that 1:52. That's still eight seconds longer than the song which probably has the best claim to actually be the second-shortest #1 single.

[(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear - Elvis Presley]

From 19 and 57, Mr. Presley's #1 Summer Hit... all one minute and 44 seconds of it.

Now, I suspect this is one of those geeky things that guys in thick glasses and over-tight t-shirts argue about at record conventions, and who knows who's right? Are we counting what it says on the record label or are we timing it? Are we using the single that actually charted or another version? Does anyone care?

Maybe somewhere out there there is a version of The Letter shorter than 1:52, maybe it's even shorter than Teddy Bear. But in the end it probably doesn't matter except to guys like Tim Ziegler... because it's all about the music.

But I still think you got it wrong, Bob.

Some show notes: This Dreamtime marks our 50th podcast, believe it or not. When I started way back in July 2006, I had 50 shows targeted, the same number as what we thought was going to be Theme Time's total run at the time. But Our Host has decided to keep on going... and I've decided I'm still having too much fun doing Dreamtime to stop.

So, thank you all who have been with me from the beginning, welcome to those who have recently joined the Dreamtime audience, and I hope you all stay on-board as Dreamtime continues to roll along, talking about Theme Time Radio Hour trivia as we find it.

Thanks to all of you, and we'll be back soon with a new show.

Sources: The primary source for this show was The Both Sides Now Stereo Chat Board.

Maurice Williams biographical information comes from his home site.


You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

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Until next time, dream well.

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