The 1954 #1 rhythm and blues hits

Guitar Slim

What was the top #1 1954 rhythm and blues hit? It depends on how you measure it.

Like in pop and country, there were charts for Best Sellers (BS), beginning in May  1948; JukeBox (JB), starting in January 1944; and Jockeys (JY- radio play) starting in December 1949. This is how one ended up with 71 weeks of #1 hits in 1954.

The record that spent the most time on one of these charts is The Things I Used To Do by Guitar Slim and his Band, with Ray Charles on the piano, at 14 weeks. But that’s 14 weeks JB but only 6 as BS, which arguably is more significant.

Hearts of Stone by The Charms spent nine weeks atop the BS list, more than any other recording but only two weeks each on JB and JY.

Honey Love by The Drifters featuring Clyde McPhatter was #1 for eight weeks on both BS and JB. It was co-written by McPhatter. I’m sure I have this track on some Atlantic Records compilation. Per Wikipedia:  “According to Rolling Stone, the Drifters were the least stable of the great vocal groups, as they were low-paid musicians hired by George Treadwell, who owned the Drifters’ name from 1955, after McPhatter left. The Treadwell Drifters line has had 60 musicians, including several splinter groups by former Drifters members (not under Treadwell’s management). These groups are usually identified with a possessive credit such as ‘Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters,’ ‘Charlie Thomas’ Drifters.'”

You’ll Never Walk Alone by Roy Hamilton was #1 for eight weeks BS, five weeks JB. Yes, this is the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Carousel. 

Oh What A Dream by Ruth Brown And Her Rhythmakers was #1 for eight weeks JB and four weeks BS.

More of ’54

Work With Me Annie by The Midnighters was #1 for seven weeks BS, four weeks JB.  Group member Hank Ballard wrote it. The record notes “Formerly known as The Royals.” They changed from the Four Falcons to the Royals and later to The Midnighters to avoid confusion with other groups’ names. You should read the Wikipedia page about the group, specifically about Dick Clark and the Twist, written by Ballard (and perhaps others).

The Charms, The Drifters, Hamilton, and The Midnighters might have outsold Guitar Slim.

Hurts Me To My Heart by Faye Adams was #1 for five weeks BS and JB.

Shake, Rattle, And Roll by Joe Turner and his Blues King was #1 for three weeks JB. This I have on multiple compilations.

Annie Had A Baby by The Midnighters was #1 for two weeks BS. Interestingly, it was NOT written by Hank Ballard.

You Upset Me Baby by B.B. “Blues Boy” King and His Orchestra was #1 for two weeks JB, written by King.

Mambo Baby by Ruth Brown And Her Rhythmakers was #1 for a single week in both BS and JB

I’ll Be True by Faye Adams with the Joe Morris Orchestra was #1 BS for a week

When these charts consolidated into one in October 1958, fans were much less confused.

Country Best Sellers of 1954

Wake Up, Irene

The odd nature of the Billboard charts is that, for most of the 1950s, there were three different charts each for pop, country, and rhythm and blues categories.

So there was a Country Best Sellers of 1954 roster; the category (BS) began in May  1948. But there were also ones for JukeBox (JB), starting in January 1944, and Jockeys (JY- radio play) starting in December 1949.

As it turns out, the three biggest hits for the year spent multiple weeks in each category. These are all familiar names, probably from the nights listening to WWVA in Wheeling, WV.

I Don’t Hurt Anymore – Hank Snow, the Singing Ranger, and the Rainbow Ranch Boys, b20 weeks at #1 (BS 20, JB 20, JY  18)

Slowly – Webb Pierce, 17 weeks at #1 (BS 17, JB 17, JY 15) , co-written by Pierce

More And More  – Webb Pierce, 10 weeks at #1 (BS 10, BS 9, JY 8)

The rest of the #1s topped the chart in only one metric.

Bimbo – Jim Reeves, 3 weeks at #1 (JY). In this usage, the title doesn’t mean what you might think it does.

Wake Up, Irene  – Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys, 2 weeks at #1 (JB)

(Oh Baby Mine) I Get So Lonely – Johnny & Jack, 2 weeks at #1 (JY). The duo was composed of Johnnie Wright (1914–2011) and Jack Anglin (1916–1963). “Johnny was married to Kitty Wells and the duo’s 25-year career together ended in 1963 when Jack was killed in a car wreck while going to Patsy Cline’s funeral.”

Even Tho – Webb Pierce, 2 weeks at #1 (JY). Webb was the lyricist.

A single week at #1

I Really Don’t Want To Know – Eddy Arnold, the Tennessee Plowboy and his guitar (JB)

One by One – Kitty Wells and Red Foley    (JB)

Interestingly, there is no overlaps in terms of the #1s on the pop, country and RB charts in 1954. This would prove to be untrue when we get to 1956. You can blame Elvis Presley and the wave of musicians who charted with him.

But the seeds were planted in ’54, as Elvis made his first Sun Records recording, and Johnny Cash made his move from Sun.

#1 hits of 1954: rock and roll is coming

The voice of Tony the Tiger

Here are the #1 hits of 1954. Even though I was an infant when these came out, some of them are familiar because they got heavily played on oldies stations.

Sidebar: one of the rare times I REALLY feel old is when I hear music of the 1990s described as “oldies.”

All of these songs were gold records except This Ole House. There are 65 weeks of #1 songs because of competing Billboard charts.

Little Things Mean A Lot – Kitty Kallen (Decca), nine weeks at #1

Sh-Boom – The Crew Cuts (Mercury), nine weeks at #1. The Crew Cuts was a white Canadian group. From A Century of Pop Music by Joel Whitburn: Sh-Boom was originally “a song by the R&B group The Chords.” The Chords’ version (Cat) went to #5 pop and #2 for two weeks RB that year. “The subsequent influx of R&B songs covered by white artists such as Pat Boone and Gale Storm introduced R&B to the mass audience and left white teens hungry for more.” I’ve heard both versions.

Wanted – Perry Como with Hugo Winterhalter’s orchestra and chorus (RCA Victor), eight weeks at #1

Oh! My Papa (O Mein Papa) – Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter’s orchestra and chorus (RCA Victor), eight weeks at #1. I remember this song, which I found schmaltzy.

Make Love To Me! – Jo Stafford with Paul Weston and his orchestra (Columbia), seven weeks at #1

Mr. Sandman – The Chordettes (Cadence), seven weeks at #1. The “yes?” is spoken by Archie Bleyer, Cadence’s founder and the orchestra leader on the recording. It’s a song I already linked to this year. A Reddit post says it’s “the best unintentionally creepy song,” which I’m not feeling.

George Clooney’s aunt

Hey There – Rosemary Clooney with Buddy Cole and his orchestra (Columbia), six weeks at #1. The song is from the Broadway musical The Pajama Game. I remember that first line after the intro.

Secret Love– Doris Day with the orchestra conducted by Ray Heindorf (Columbia), four weeks at #1. From the Warner Brothers picture, Calamity Jane, in which she starred. The IMDb states she recorded the song in one take.

This Ole House – Rosemary Clooney with Buddy Cole and his orchestra (Columbia), three weeks at #1. I always liked this song, especially the featured bass vocals by the wonderful Thurl Ravenscroft.

I Need You Now – Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter’s orchestra (RCA Victor), three weeks at #1

Three Coins In The Fountain – Four Aces featuring Al Alberts (Decca), one week at #1. Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn wrote the title song from the 20th Century film.

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