Among the female teen pop singers of the '60s, Cathy Carroll might be the most dramatic stylist of them all.
She didn't quite outdo Johnnie Ray in the histrionics department, but she did record Ray's signature hit, "Cry," in what I assume was a tribute to one of her spiritual forebears.
I remember reading that producer Ken Nelson used to try to make Ferlin Husky reel in his overwrought performances. Husky was another singer like Carroll and Ray who really liked to pour his heart out. Fortunately, Carroll didn't have a Ken Nelson around to make her dial down the drama, so she was free to emote to the max.
She was no novelty act, though. Like Ray and Husky, she could really sing.
On Carroll's records, her performances were only one source of drama; many of the songs themselves were completely over the top.
Like the unforgettable teen tragedy song "Jimmy Love" (1961), in which her boyfriend gets smashed by a tree. Or "Every Leaf That Falls" (1961), in which her teen heartache is so apocalyptic that the falling leaves of autumn might as well be nuclear bombs.
Or "I Wish You Were a Girl" (1966), Carroll's final single, which would make any guy glad that he's not a girl. Unless he wanted to suffer and pray for death, that is. According to the song, that's what being a girl is like.
It's hard to find any information about Carroll, let alone credible information, so today Music Weird will endeavor to inform. Someone out there knows a lot more about her than I've been able to find, and her family members occasionally comment on her YouTube videos, so I hope that someone will add info here in the comments.
In Billboard, Carroll had only one chart hit, but she had a lot more hits than that if you broaden your definition of a hit.
Carroll's first national hit, "Jimmy Love," didn't register at all in Billboard but was a minor hit in Cash Box, where it reached #79 in 1961. The song was successful enough that Capitol's Jeanne Black covered it.
"Jimmy Love" is notable not only for being a teen tragedy recording but also for its twist ending. The song leads you to think that it's about a wedding, but then you find out that the girl is actually at the funeral of her fiancé, who died when a tree fell on him during a storm.
(Joe Dowell's 1963 Smash recording "My Darling Wears White Today" is another bait-and-switch wedding song that turns out to be a death disc.)
Carroll's version of "Jimmy Love" attracted much more attention than its meager-to-nonexistent chart showing suggests. It was a Top 10 hit in several cities, and newspaper columnist Jerry Osborne ("Mr. Music") claimed that the single sold 300,000 copies. Hard to believe, but I mention it here anyway.
"Jimmy Love" came out on Triodex Records, a New York label that Bill Buchanan (of "The Thing" and Buchanan & Goodman) ran. I talked to one of the co-owners of Triodex years ago and wish that I could find my notes from the interview.
On the Billboard chart, Carroll's only hit was "Poor Little Puppet," a recording of a song that first appeared on the B-side of Jan & Dean's 1961 single "A Sunday Kind of Love." Carroll's version peaked at #91 in 1962.
Regionally, Carroll's version of "Poor Little Puppet" was a Top 10 hit in several cities, including Seattle, San Diego, Cleveland, and Vancouver.
This wonderful minor hit can be found—legitimately licensed and mastered from the original tape—on a compilation that I worked on, Teen Time, Volume 1: Love Me Forever.
Billboard said that, despite Carroll's many good records, "Poor Little Puppet" was "easily her best." The background vocals were provided by the Earls, who had a hit of their own in 1962 with "Remember Then."
Apart from "Jimmy Love" and "Poor Little Puppet," Carroll's singles had only regional success.
- "Every Leaf That Falls" (1961) charted in a number of Northeastern cities and saw some action in San Francisco.
- "The Young Ones" (1962), Carroll's cover of the Cliff Richard song, charted on at least 10 radio stations across the country, particularly around Massachusetts.
- "But You Lied" (1962) charted in Vancouver, Toronto, and Philadelphia.
- "I'm Available" (1963), Carroll's remake of the 1957 Margie Rayburn hit, charted in Montreal.
- "Here's to Our Love" (1965) charted in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (That year she also released an unsuccessful answer song to Brian Hyland's "Ginny Come Lately," "Johnny Come Lately.")
Her life and times
The Wikipedia article on Carroll says that she was born in 1939, but both Billboard and Radio Television Daily reported in 1963 that she was 17 years old, which means that she would have been born closer to 1946.
I'm assuming that she came from somewhere around Massachusetts, because she had so much regional success there. Wikipedia also claims that her real name was Carolyn Stern.
In 1961, Billboard reported that Carroll appeared on the Bob Braun TV hop in Cincinnati to promote "Jimmy Love" and also traveled from Chicago to Detroit to Cincinnati to New York to pitch the record and to record promo spots for disk jockeys.
In 1962, Carroll went to New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, with Roy Beltier (who had a swingin' version of "Summertime" out on Success Records) to appear on WNHC-TV's Connecticut Bandstand Show and to judge a twist contest at the Hartford Armory.
Carroll moved to Philips Records in 1963 and signed with the cosmetics firm Coty to serve as "Miss Teen-Age America" in a 100-city tour.
In 1965, she switched to the Musicor label. Billboard reported that when the head of Musicor's Italian distribution heard her first Musicor single, "Here's to Our Love," he requested that she record an Italian version. The Italian single was supposed to be released by the end of February 1965, but I haven't found any evidence that it was.
Her stay with Musicor was short lived, and by the end of 1965, she had signed with the Rotate label, which was distributed by Bell Records.
In 1966, she moved to Dot Records and cut her final solo single.
Carroll married Bob Halley, the producer, arranger, and songwriter who wrote Nat "King" Cole's hit "Dear Lonely Hearts," among many other songs. Under the name Bob and Cathy, the duo recorded a single for Mercury Records in 1967, "Clyde and Dale" b/w "Just Imagine." "Just Imagine" is included on the 2009 Bob Halley Band CD Missouri Bluebird.
In 1968, Billboard reported that Halley and Carroll had given birth to a son.
That's all I know. There's a pretty good-sounding bootleg CD called The Cathy Carroll Story (Not Just a Poor Little Puppet) that has all of her recordings except for "Just Imagine." The liner notes say that she had a son and a daughter.
More info, anyone?