Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shelby Singleton - How To Produce A Hit

On October 7 of this year, famed record producer Shelby Singleton passed away at the age of 77.

Folks who are younger than me won't recognize the name, but in the sixties, Shelby Singleton was a major force in the world of country music.

Right now, if I think of the Smash label and the Plantation label, I can still picture the 45's and albums that I spun on my cheap-ola turntables. And I think of names such as Roger Miller and Ray Stevens, not to mention, of course, Jeannie C. Riley ~ but we'll get to her later.

Before his producing days, however, Mr. Singleton worked as a record plugger for Mercury Records. Here is a sampling of the music he discovered:

Bruce Channel (featuring harp by Delbert McClinton on the original recording) ~ Hey Baby

As any chick-flick aficionado could tell you, this recording was also featured in the movie, "Dirty Dancing". (I like to throw in trivia, when I can.)

Paul and Paula (nee "Jill and Ray" ~ doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?) ~ Hey Paula

"Hey Paula" was a sappy song, but it was 1963 and sap was in style. Looking back, one might think, hey, wasn't Rock & Roll getting going in 1963? Sadly, not really. A quick check of the charts shows that the top songs of 1963 included "I Will Follow Him" by "Little" Peggy March, "Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs, "Blue Velvet" (!) by Bobby Vinton; not to mention "Dominique" by the Singing Nun. A sapfest galore.

Running Bear ~ Johnny Preston

As you will note by the record being placed on the spindle, this song was written by J.P. Richardson (the "Big Bopper"). J.P. (or B.B.) was kind of politically incorrect, wasn't he? Well, it was the late fifties.

Later, as Shelby transitioned into a producer role with Mercury, he recorded LeRoy Van Dyke's seminal hit, "Walk On By":

LeRoy was known as the Singing Auctioneer, but that's a different song, another day. "Walk On By" was a huge hit in 1961. I was six years old. I didn't know why somebody would walk on by if they saw someone they knew on the corner, but I guess I figured it was one of those spy versus spy things, like in my brother's Mad Magazine.

On the same day in 1961, Shelby also produced this recording by Ray Stevens ~ Ahab The Arab:

Let me just say that I am a big fan of Ray Stevens' "serious music". I just can't get on board with this one, though. It's not so much that it's politically incorrect; it's just that it's stupid.

Shelby also produced this song, by Roger Miller ~ Dang Me:

Roger Miller - Dang Me (early 1970's)

Men In Black | MySpace Video

Sorry for the crappy Hee Haw video, but it's the only one I could find. Although if it wasn't for Hee Haw in the sixties, we country fans would have never found country music anywhere on our TV dial.

Roger Miller was a great songwriter, and this hit is from the album, "The Return of Roger Miller", which was a rather audacious title, considering that Roger really didn't have anywhere to return from at that time. But make no mistake; novelty tunes aside, Roger wrote great songs, such as, "Invitation to the Blues" and "Husbands and Wives", among many others.

Shelby Singleton will, of course, always be associated with this huge hit that he produced for Jeannie C. Riley, written by Tom T. Hall ~ Harper Valley P.T.A.

If you were alive in the year 1968, you could not escape this recording. It was played ad nauseam on the radio. I could repeat every riff, dobro and otherwise, of this song in my sleep. I bet even people who didn't listen to country music have this song seared into their brains. I guess that's the mark of a true hit!

And speaking of marks, Shelby Singleton definitely left his, in the annals of country music. And to top it all off, he went and bought Sun Records!

It's nice to look back and remember, and to acknowledge those who worked with little recognition, to create what became a snapshot of the history of popular music.

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